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NightWatch 20091103


For the Night of 3 November 2009

Japan-Afghanistan: A draft of a foreign aid package indicates that Japan might give Afghanistan about $4 billion in civilian aid over five years beginning in 2010, Kyodo reported 3 November. The aid package, which would be implemented through the Japan International Cooperation Agency and international organizations such as the U.N. Development Program, would include assistance in vocational training for former Taliban fighters, development of Afghanistan's farmland and a project to construct a new city north of Kabul. Japan would also help build schools, train teachers and pay for police officers.

Japanese Cabinet members are expected to decide on the outline of the aid package soon, perhaps by 5 November, according to Yomiuri Shimbun. The Democratic Party coalition government is willing to provide non-lethal assistance to Afghanistan, but will not extend the naval refueling mission in the Indian Ocean when it expires on 15 January 2010.

During this Watch, Kyodo reported Defense Minister Kitazawa said the government is considering sending Self Defense Force liaison officers to Kabul to work with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The new government is comfortable with this arrangement because (ISAF) was approved by a UN resolution. The Self Defense Force officers also will have an opportunity to work with NATO which leads the ISAF.

North Korea: North Korea completed reprocessing 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods at its Yongbyon nuclear facility and weaponized the plutonium extracted from the material, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported 3 November.

It has been six months since the United States dragged our peaceful satellite launch from last April to the UNSC and put into effect sanctions against the DPRK. During this period, we operated reprocessing facilities as part of the measures to restore to their original state the Yo'ngbyo'n nuclear facilities that had been neutralized according to the agreement of the six parties and successfully completed the reprocessing of 8,000 spent fuel rods by the end of August.

Comment: The Yongbyon reactor core holds 8,000 rods. Thus the statement means the North reprocessed a complete core into weapons grade plutonium, enough for "several nuclear weapons," according to

North Korea seldom publicizes develops in its nuclear industry. It only does so to make a political point. That point appears to be to emphasize the urgency of yesterday's invitation for the US to engage in bilateral talks. The implied threat is that every day of delay increases the North's stockpile of weapons grade fissile material.

The Korean Central Broadcasting Station carried a companion piece to the News Agency item as part of its update on the "100-day struggle. "

Epoch-making achievements have been made in the production of uranium ores by the functionaries' and working class's exalted enthusiasm and vigorous labor struggles to smoothly provide nuclear fuel for the light water reactor power plant to be built with our own strength in the future

(Note: The split infinitive is repeated as translated)

The significance of this statement is that it is the first time the North has asserted in public that it intends to build light water reactors on its own. Under the Agreed Framework, two light water reactors were to have been built by this time by the international consortium KEDO in exchange for freezing the Yongbyon reactor, during the Clinton administration. Since the Bush administration's termination of the Agreed Framework, the North has insisted at various times that the US, South Korea or some new consortium from among the other Six Party members complete the two reactors. This is the first time it has said it will go it alone.

The little known fact is that the North's power grid is too brittle and outdated to handle the steady energy output of a light water reactor. Even under the Agreed Framework the plan was to sell most of the energy to South Korea, which provided the contractors and skilled workers for the Sinpo light water reactor site before the US terminated the Agreed Framework.

This broadcast raises a suspicion that the North and South might be talking about light water reactors again because the North lacks the technological skills to build these reactors; the South has more experience building operational nuclear power reactors than any other country in Asia; and the North's power grid has not improved in the past ten years.

Burma (Myanmar)-China: State-owned China National Petroleum Corp. announced 3 November that construction on a 480-mile pipeline through Myanmar has begun, The Associated Press reported, citing the company's Web site. The pipeline will connect the port of Maday Island on the Indian Ocean to Ruili in China's Yunnan Province, passing through central Myanmar's Mandalay.

The web site posting did not make clear when the pipeline would be ready, but it reported the pipeline will be able to carry 84 million barrels of oil a year.

Burma-US: Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell and his deputy Scot Marciel met Thein Sein in the administrative capital Naypyidaw on the second and final day of their trip. Campbell is the highest ranking official of the US executive branch to visit Burma in 14 years. Campbell also is scheduled to make the mandatory visit to meet opposition leader Aung San Suy Kyi before he leaves Burma.

Note: The timing of the two news items above shows that Burma is trying to implement a policy of triangulation that uses budding US ties to moderate the strong Chinese influence. The Chinese have the better part of the arrangement because they save millions of dollars by not having to ship petroleum products by sea to eastern Chinese ports to have them re-shipped west to Yunnan.

China's stake and interest in the Indian Ocean region is continuing to rise. Expect the Indians to assert their interest in Burma shortly.

Afghanistan-Russia: The head of the Main Intelligence Directorate in the Russian General Staff, Lt-Gen Aleksandr Shlyakhturov, said, "We consider the fact that Karzai remains in power as a positive and stabilizing factor in how the domestic political situation in Afghanistan will develop and will therefore support him."

The Russians recognize an opportunity. A major asset for Karzai, which the US has not valued properly of late, is that he is a Pashtun. NightWatch predicts Abdullah Abdullah's withdrawal will prove to have been part of an arranged political deal. Had a Tajik won the presidency, the instability in Afghanistan would have been uncontainable. The two candidates stepped back from the brink of far worse violence than is now the case.

Israel-Hamas: For the record. The head of Military Intelligence for the Israel Defense Forces, General Amos Yadlin said the military arsenal of Hamas operatives in the Gaza Strip includes a rocket capable of striking Tel Aviv, Haaretz reported 3 November.

Speaking to a parliamentary panel in Jerusalem, Yadlin said that Hamas recently tested fired a rocket capable of reaching targets within 60 kilometers into the Mediterranean Sea. Other accounts described the rocket as Iranian-made.

Yadlin's comments are a warning indicator of a powerful asymmetric Israeli response in the event a rocket strikes Tel Aviv.

Honduras: Leaders of the Honduran Congress deferred a vote on the reinstatement of deposed president Zelaya and asked the Supreme Court for its view. This and a Congressional vote on Zelaya's reinstatement are key components of the reconciliation agreement reached last week.

Despite hand wringing by the BBC's sources about the fate of the agreement, the agreement requires a Supreme Court opinion before the Congress votes.

End of NightWatch for 3 November.

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