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NightWatch 20120223

NightWatch

For the night of 23 February 2012

North Korea-US: US Special Representative for North Korea Policy Glyn Davies said talks with North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan on 23 February were substantive and serious and that they would continue on 24 February. Davies said they discussed North Korea's request for food aid and other topics.

Comment: The tempo of talks about talks appears to be increasing, with Japan and South Korea holding sessions with the Chinese in addition to the US session with North Korea.

The talks appear to lack substance. For example, two weeks ago the US announced that US humanitarian envoys would not participate in the talks because "food aid and other topics"  were not on the agenda. The US delegation announced it would hold North Korea's feet to the fire on nuclear issues, separate from food aid.

The pre-talks statements were bravado. Food aid is the potential gateway to other talks, if talks are the objective. The Kim Jung-un regime must make a show of national prosperity in honor of the 100th birthday of Kim Il-sung or face a huge loss of face. A big birthday party for the long dead leader of North Korea and nuclear weapons are the two legacies of the late Kim Chong-il.

If talks are an end in themselves, then the obvious solution is to give the North the food aid it seeks for the big birthday bash. If dismantlement of the nuclear weapons program is the end, food aid is irrelevant. The North will not give up its nuclear weapons program in either case, now that it has been enshrined as the legacy of Kim Chong-il.  Meanwhile, US food aid strengthens the Kim family dynasty and its legacies.

China-India-Japan:  Update.  A Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman confirmed that China, India and Japan will step up their coordination and cooperation on international naval escort activities.

"The integrated escort schedule will be arranged on a quarterly basis," spokesman Geng Yansheng told a regular news briefing, noting that the strengthened coordination and cooperation could increase the efficiency of escort operations and better safeguard international navigation safety.

Geng noted that China has been playing an active role in promoting international naval escort operations and has boosted its exchange of intelligence, mutual visits among commanders, and joint naval escorts and drills with relevant countries and organizations.

According to Geng, 10 Chinese navy flotillas (task groups), including 25 warships, 22 helicopters and over 8,400 officers and soldiers, have been deployed to the Gulf of Aden for escort missions since December 2008.

Comment: For China, the anti-piracy patrols have proved to be a cornucopia of intelligence on Western navies and their operations. In addition, selected Chinese ship commanders and crews have received out of area sailing experience that is not feasible in northeast Asia and would be unavailable to China but for the inability of the West and the Indian Ocean states to suppress the Somali pirates.

For China, these patrols are less about controlling piracy than about developing naval capabilities, sizing up potential adversaries and asserting China's interests in the Indian Ocean.

Afghanistan: Update. An Afghan soldier in Nangarhar Province killed two and wounded four US soldiers over the Koran burnings. The death toll from three days of rioting is 17, as of this report.

Iraq: A source at the Iraqi Ministry of Health reported today that at least 33 people were killed and 210 were wounded after a series of car bombings in Baghdad. Sources said the bombings occurred when booby-trapped cars exploded in the areas of Al-Mansur, Abu-Dishir, Al-Bayya, Al-Kazimiyah, Al-Taji, and Al-Karadah in Baghdad.

Comment: While few in the Western media have been paying attention, the daily death toll in Iraq is approaching that in Syria and sometimes exceeding it.

Yemen: correction to comment. Musharraf obviously did not appoint Field Marshal Tantawi, as written. Mubarak did. Regret any misunderstanding.

Turkey: Turkey plans to buy 100 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters worth $16 billion, Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz said on 23 February. Yilmaz said two of the planes will be delivered in 2015.

Comment: This is a gift to the Chinese.

Syria: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the opposition Syrian National Council is emerging as an alternative to the Bashar al-Asad regime and that the consensus among Arab League and other nations is that the group is a credible representative.

Comment: Lacking a territory that it can defend, the opposition remains inchoate, not unified and different from city to city.That diversity probably saves it from total destruction.

It is a stretch to describe any outside political group as a credible representative of an opposition that lacks any identifiable structure or organization inside Syria and shows no loyalty to the Syrian politicians outside the country. The Western and Arab diplomacy looks disconnected from and irrelevant to what is happening in Syria

End of NightWatch for 23 February.

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