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NightWatch 20111201

NightWatch

For the night of 1 December 2011

North Korea-Russia: Russia judges that North Korea's uranium enrichment programs cause serious concerns and are operating beyond the boundaries and rights of non-proliferation regimes despite several UN Security Council resolutions, according to a Russian Foreign Ministry statement on 1 December.

Russia called for North Korea to adhere to the UN Security Council resolutions 1718 and 1874 and to work toward joining the non-proliferation treaty and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) guarantees. As a first step, Moscow suggests Pyongyang declare a moratorium on all nuclear activity, including uranium enrichment, and invite IAEA personnel to inspect the uranium-enrichment facility at the Yongbyon nuclear center.

Comment: Russia has been the most skeptical of the UN Security Council members that North Korea has developed deliverable nuclear weapons. Today's statement, however, reveals Russia's discomfort with another nuclear armed country on its border, namely, North Korea.

The second issue is that Russia wants to be consequential in the solution of problems along its borders. The message to North Korea is that Russia remains in a position to counter Chinese influence and has put China on the spot for not issuing a similar statement of concern.

Finally, preparations for nuclear talks must be making progress. The North Korean statement this week about progress in the light water reactor program signified that the cost of suspending its nuclear program has increased substantially. The Russian follow-up statement indicates that the Russians intend to sit at the nuclear talks negotiating table and will not be favorable to North Korea and its extortion attempt.

Burma-US: Secretary of State Clinton offered to improve relations with Burma with a set of incentives, including upgraded diplomatic ties if it continues on the path to democratization, including release of political prisoners, ending ethnic violence and breaking military ties with North Korea.

Washington will allow Burma to participate in a US-backed Mekong River consortium, support increased UN health, microfinance and counter-narcotics programs and will no longer hinder increased cooperation between Burma and the International Monetary Fund.

According to an unnamed senior U.S. official, Burmese President Thein Sein asked for U.S. help to transition from military to civilian rule, pledged to uphold UN resolutions on North Korea and considered allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency full access to its "atomic" sites.

Comment: This is the first time a senior Burmese official has admitted that Burma has a nuclear program of any kind. The US comment about ending ethnic violence is sophomoric and ill-informed. The upland tribes will never stop fighting the ethnic Burmans from the south.

The Clinton visit was premature. Burma has not done much to reform or democratize itself that would justify a visit by the US Secretary of State. Burma has been rewarded for doing very little to change a repressive system and been bribed for promising nothing about individual human rights.

Iran: Update.

European Union (EU): The European Union agreed to impose a new round of sanctions on 180 Iranian officials and entities, EU diplomats said, after an EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels. EU officials also agreed to continue developing sanctions to target Iran's energy industry, an EU official said.

Italy: The Rome government called Italian Ambassador to Iran Alberto Bradanini home for consultations, Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata said at a news conference in Brussels.

Syria: A snapshot in three anecdotes.

Russia: Russia delivered Bastion mobile coastal missile systems with Yakhont supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria, a military-diplomatic source in Moscow said on 1 December. Russia supplied the arms under a 2007 contract, which includes training for Syrian personnel, the source said. The source did not say how many arms were supplied or when they were delivered.

Syria hoped to receive at least two Bastion systems, each with 36 missiles, to defend Syria's entire coastline, another source said. According to unconfirmed reports, the contract is worth $300 million.

Syrian Opposition: Members of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) met in the Turkish province of Hatay on 28 November, where they established a joint commission and a plan to fight Damascus, Hurriyet reported on 1 December.

The commission contains four high-ranking Syrian army defectors and four high-ranking SNC members. The FSA agreed to not organize any assault against the Syrian regime, pledging to use armed resistance only for defensive reasons.

SNC Executive Committee member Ahmed Ramadan said FSA leader Colonel Riad al-Asaad agrees that the Syrian movement will stay civilian-led and that the FSA will protect civilians during protests.

UN: High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on 1 December that Syria is in a state of civil war due to the rising death toll and the increasing number of defecting soldiers fighting against the Syrian government. The death toll officially has risen to 4,000, though reliable information coming to the Human Rights Commission gives a much higher number, Pillay said.

Comment and notes for analysts: Two of the three stories amount to nonsense. Only the Russia arms delivery contains facts that can be corroborated and which are consistent with real life events. Arms deliveries can be confirmed. Arms contracts are matters of record.

Arms deliveries mean the ports are functioning normally and securely. There are no reports of disruptions at Syrian ports. For most Syrians life goes on as normal.

The announcement of the opposition's new joint commission indicts Turkey as supporting insurrection in Syria, which constitutes an act of war against Syria. The announcement was made in Turkey, a member of NATO.

Turkish relations with Syria are strained, mainly because the Syrians resent the Turks for meddling in Arab affairs and the Turks are frustrated that Arabs won't listen to them. Turkish provision of a base for armed insurrection in Syria represents a potential escalation that neither Turkey has admitted nor Syria has charged.

Finally, the UN statement suggests Pillay's job might be in jeopardy or some other UN political maneuver is at work. That is the only reason a person in his position would declare the existence of a civil war where the evidence is absent. There are no indications of a civil war.

Higher organizational development and the formatiion of  field forces of some sort under central control are two of the  usual characteristics of a civil war. The Syrian opposition has yet to create a credible political organization or insurgent force, much less an opposition army.

Outside interests are creating the existence of an organized opposition from whole cloth. It does not exist except among the Syrian émigrés. There appears to be a rush by some Western and Arab powers towards a Libyan solution. The evidence from the fighting indicates this civil war is a UN fiction and maybe a money-making scam by Syrians in exile.

So would NATO be dragged into another Middle East war if Syria destroyed the opposition camp in Turkey? Feedback is invited.

Egypt: Comment: The military government announced on 1 December that election results would be delayed a day or two. Few leaks of preliminary election results have reached the press, attesting to unusually tight security for the vote count.

Today, a few leaks reinforced the pre-election estimate that the most organized parties would dominate the election. These are the Muslim Brotherhood which might have won 45% of the seats and the Salafists, which are the runner up. Both are Muslims of strict observance.

The new Egyptian parliament will be Islamist. The Brotherhood will be entitled to form a government.

The various programs by the Brotherhood that some analysts use as indicators that the Brotherhood is now more moderate, such as building hospitals, taking care of the poor and providing for widows, are good works enjoined on Muslims. They signify nothing about the next government's political philosophy, except conformance to Quranic prescriptions. That is what worries Egyptian Christians.

End of NightWatch for 1 December.

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