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NightWatch 20111218

NightWatch

For the night of 18 December 2011

North Korea: Kim Chong-il died on 17 December, according to a broadcast about 0300 on 19 December. The official notice stated, "Kim Chong-Il, general secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), chairman of the DPRK National Defense Commission and supreme commander of the Korean People's Army, passed away from a great mental and physical strain at 08:30 December 17, 2011, on a train during a field guidance tour."

"The WPK Central Committee and Central Military Commission, DPRK National Defense Commission, Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly and Cabinet released a notice on Saturday informing the WPK members, servicepersons and all other people of his passing away."

"All party members, military men and the public should faithfully follow the leadership of comrade Kim Jong-un and protect and further strengthen the unified front of the party, military and the public," the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported. The cause of death was a heart attack, which occurred while he was on the train, according to a later official report.

A funeral for Kim Chong-il will be held in Pyongyang on 28 December and Kim Jong-un will head the funeral committee, KCNA said.

Comment: After the stroke in 2008, Kim began making the arrangements to provide for a relatively smooth leadership transition, to the extent he could. His brother-in-law Chang Song-taek is the regent for the third son and heir-designate, Kim Jong-un. Jong-un was promoted to a four star general, despite no military service. He was identified as successor in internal indoctrination campaigns, traveled with his father and the two attacks against South Korea in 2010 were attributed to his ""leadership." All the key people, including Chang and Kim Jong-un, have the positions, authority and rank to take charge and take command.

Nevertheless, the succession is weak because the new key people have no direct ties to the three wars - the anti-Japanese war before World War II; World War II, and the Korean War, which has been the cachet for leadership - and have no military training or experience. Kim Jong-un, in his mid-20s, officially is a four-star general, which some real generals and marshals reportedly resent. The North is fundamentally a military-backed regime that has multiple factions.

Succession in a communist state always is a dangerous time. There are immediate and longer term grounds for concern.

Most immediately, North Korean armed forces probably are at semi-war state of alert to ensure a prompt response in the event any enemy attempts or is perceived as attempting to take advantage of a period of grief or judges the North is weakened by leadership change. South Korean forces also are on alert against uncertainty and unpredictability in the North.

The longer term concern is the pressure on the new leader to prove himself. Kim Chong-il lived under the shadow of his father, who filtered the pressure during the transition in the early 1990's. But it is worth recalling that Chong-il's most sensational achievements were to oversee North Korea's emergence as a nuclear armed state, so it claims, and its proliferation of ballistic missiles, deeds Kim Il-sung never accomplished. The son surpassed the father in military technology.

On the other hand, Kim Chon-il's legacy as a builder of a prosperous North Korea is no better than that of his father. Most of his civil construction and development projects have been failures. Thus, North Korea has a nuclear weapons program and a million-man armed forces, but cannot feed itself. Father and son are responsible for this condition.

The great unfinished work of the Kim Il-sung, the father of North Korea, and his son is the reunification of Korea. The third son and successor will be under pressure to outdo his father and grandfather. Continued vigilance by the Allies will remain essential.

North Korea-US: Yonhap News Agency reported on 17 December that the United States has agreed to provide up to 240,000 tons of food aid to North Korea in return for North Korea's pledge to implement initial denuclearization measures, including suspension of its uranium enrichment program. According to unidentified diplomatic sources, the agreement resulted from meetings in Beijing on Thursday and Friday between US special envoy on North Korean human rights Robert King and Ri Kun, Director General for North American affairs in North Korea's foreign ministry.

The food assistance will be delivered in shipments of 20,000 tons each during the next 12 months. The North apparently also agreed to accept closer monitoring of distribution so that the food is not diverted to the military.

The United States and North Korea also are expected to hold another round of high-level talks on Thursday next week to help resume the six-party talks on Pyongyang's denuclearization, which were last held in late 2008..

Comment: The six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia have been deadlocked since late 2008. Progress in talks will be delayed by the death of Kim and the funeral rites. Those provide a unique opportunity for the US to show good will by sending a delegation to the funeral, even of an enemy leader. For example, former Secretary of State Albright and former President Carter have the credentials because they both visited Pyongyang.

Iraq: Sectarian-based political tension increased over the weekend. The government banned Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi from traveling abroad, according to al Jazeerah. Sunni politicians claim it also is resisting initiatives by Sunni governates to have themselves approved as semi-autonomous "regions", a process that is allowed and defined under the constitution. Finally, the members of the Sunni political party in Maliki's governing coalition, known as Al-Iraqiyah List, announced they have suspended their participation in parliament until Sunni rights and interests are respected by al Maliki.

Leading Al-Iraqiyah List figure, Salim al-Juburi, said after a meeting held in Tariq al-Hashimi's house that the suspension decision will continue until the government changes its policy and practices real partnership. Al-Juburi noted that the government used to create crises, and added that Al-Iraqiyah List will launch a campaign to support the constitution. He denied rumors that the government issued a warrant for the arrest of Vice President al-Hashemi.

Comment: As the last US combat troops left Iraq, the government of Iraq began to unravel.

Egypt: Security. Egyptian security forces clashed with hundreds of protesters for a third straight day in Cairo on 18 December. Tahrir Square reportedly was fairly calm, but clashes occurred near the parliament building. Since 16 December clashes with security forces have resulted in 10 protestors killed and 432 injured, according to the Egyptian Health Ministry.

Politics. The results of the second round of the three-round parliamentary elections were announced Saturday, 17 December. The party affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Freedom and Justice Party, claimed 40% of the vote, up from 37% in the first round of voting. The Salafist Al-Nur party also did well again.

Officials again reported a large turnout, 68.5% of registered voters in the nine jurisdictions that voted. Runoff elections will be required in most constituencies between Freedom and Justice Party and Al-Nur candidates.

The second round included Al-Jizah, Al-Minufiyah, Al-Sharqiyah, Al-Isma'iliyah, Suez, Bani Suwayf, Al-Buhayrah, Suhaj and Aswan.

The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Salifist Al-Nur Party appear to have the upper hand in the second round of the ongoing People Assembly (lower house of Parliament) elections.

Comment: The second round results may be interpreted as confirming that the first round outcome in favor of Islamist parties represents the will of Egyptian voters. Anecdotal reports suggest that Egyptians are so unfamiliar with democracy that the results actually represent the effects of good organization, publicity and name branding in a confusing electoral setting, not the political views of the voters. Egyptians wanted to vote, but the process favored familiar brands, over issues.

End of NightWatch for 18 December.

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