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NightWatch 20091123


For the Night of 23 November 2009

North Korea-US: North Korea urged the United States to replace the armistice agreement with a peace treaty, Yonhap reported 23 November. A commentary in the official Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun stated that to secure permanent peace and stability and end confrontation and clashes on the Korean Peninsula, the armistice between North Korea and the United States should end and a peace regime implemented, adding that the recent armed clash highlights the pressing need. The newspaper called the armistice "outdated and defunct," and said a new peace treaty will eradicate the threat of war and secure peace on the Korean Peninsula.

The theory that the impermanence of the armistice promotes miscommunication and armed clashes is a shop worn staple of North Korean public diplomacy. The timing of the statement is worth a comment because the North chose the five-day visit this week by Chinese Defense Minister Lianq as the occasion to publicize its strategic political objective for the direct talks with the US on 8 December.

North Korea-China: The North's propagandists also want to make it look as if the Chinese support the call for a permanent peace treaty to replace the armistice. The Chinese probably do in light of the several exchanges between political commissars of the two countries and their armed forces in the past month, which provided opportunities to consult and coordinate. The North is not likely to publicize a political position that would embarrass the Chinese Defense Minister during his visit.

US- Afghan Taliban: Update. High-level indirect talks between the United States and senior Afghan Taliban militants are under way, Pakistan's Dawn News reported 23 November. Unidentifed sources reportedly told Dawn News that the discussions involve top Afghan Taliban leaders and officials from the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Among the Taliban leaders said to be involved in the talks are the chief of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Abdullah Anas, Abu Al Hasan Madani and Abu Jud Mehmood Samrai. The first round of discussions has ended, and a face-to-face meeting is possible after the three-day Muslim holiday Eid al Adha, beginning 27 November.

The Coalition leaders are convinced that a substantial portion of the anti-government violence is not motivated by religion or ideology. This effort is aimed a satisfying the demands of those anti-government groups that have more secular gripes, such as corruption, so as to persuade them to fight for the government or at least remain neutral in the fight against the hard core Taliban. It is a form of divide-and-conquer tactics.

It is a gamble that is worth the time and energy, at least in some districts. The key is the ability of Coalition forces to ensure that promises are kept… on both sides.

Iran-Pakistan: Update. Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said that due to cooperation with Pakistan, efforts are under way to detain Abdol-malek Rigi, the head of the rebel group Jundullah, BBC reported 23 November. Najjar added that the efforts will continue until Rigi's arrest.

Rigi's group is wanted for acts of terrorism in Iranian Baluchistan, especially the attack against the IRGC and a group of Sunni and Shia leaders in Pishin in October. Jundullah is based in Pakistani Baluchistan and is an embarrassment for Pakistan. Iran accuses the US and the UK of backing Jundullah and threatened military operations in Pakistan if the Pakistanis did not cooperate in suppress Jundullah.

Israel-Hamas: Hamas sources declared significant progress in negotiations to release abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit and said a deal could be expected by the middle of next week, Haaretz reported 23 November.

Hamas delegates headed to Cairo to debate a final prisoner list presented by Israel for an exchange that would free Shalit after more than three years in captivity. Senior Hamas official Salah al-Bardawil said he hoped a deal would be sealed by the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. According to the Hamas official journal A-Risala the deal would be finalized after the holiday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, announced today Israel has made no deal with Hamas for a prisoner swap for Shalit, adding that any deal "will be brought for debate in the Knesset and voted on in the Cabinet," The Jerusalem Post reported. In the meantime, a Hamas official said, "The progress in the negotiations did not reach the level of setting dates for the swap," Xinhua reported.

There have been so many false alarms about imminent deals that it is pointless to make a prediction. Still it is somewhat unusual for both the Israelis and Hamas to be talking about a prisoner exchange. The negotiations look serious and continue.

Honduras: During this Watch, The Associated Press reported remarks by former president Zelaya in which he blamed the US for failing to re-instate him as president. He also said the 29 November general elections will be illegitimate. Sour grapes. Zelaya misjudged his moves at every turn since last summer. Support from Venezuela's Chavez and the violent opposition by Zelaya's followers that he encouraged did not help the cause of his reinstatement.

The new Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Dr. Valenzuela told a session of the Organization of American States that the elections "are not something invented by the de-facto government as a way out or to clean up the coup…. This is an election consistent with the constitutional mandate to elect the president and congress."

He said U.S. and international observers will attend the vote and could recommend Honduras be readmitted to the regional body, depending on how fair the elections are.

Valenzuela's policy line represents a complete change from that pushed by the US all summer. Micheletti held fast and time has proven to be on his side. Assistant Secretary Shannon's term of office expired 10 November and the counterproductive policy for Honduras went with him, it seems.

End of NightWatch for 23 November.

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