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NightWatch 20091213


For the Night of 13 December 2009

North Korea-US: North Korea and the United States agreed during U.S. Special Envoy Stephen Bosworth's 8-10 December trip to Pyongyang to resume "four-party talks" on replacing the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953 with a peace treaty, Yonhap reported 13 December, citing an unnamed South Korean official.

The official said Pyongyang and Washington agreed to start talks after an agreement is reached on reviving nuclear talks, and that North Korea requested that the talks take place in the four-party framework, which would include the United States, North Korea, South Korea and China. Four-party talks began in 1997 but were suspended in 1999.

Delegates from the four nations met in plenary session six times in Geneva. The talks made little substantive progress because the North insisted on a US agreement to withdraw its troops from the peninsula and on US-North Korean peace treaty. The North also wanted massive food aid as condition for the talks, which it characterized as a guarantee of good faith. The US objected to the extortion proposal. The South Korea insisted on working on less intractable issues.

During the preparatory and plenary sessions, disagreement about the agenda for the way ahead proved to be the stumbling block. Nevertheless, during South Korean President Kim Dae-jung's Inter-Korean Summit in Pyongyang in 2000, he proposed reviving the four party talks to work towards a "peace system" for the peninsula that would lead to peaceful reunification.

At no time in these talks did North Korea object to the South's role, as reported by other news services. The North's agreement to South Korean participation was one of the distinguishing features of these talks.

The intertwining of the four and six party talks creates a potential negotiating nightmare in which the North has the more advantageous position of control. Nevertheless, ten years ago, a peace treaty was far more remote than it seems to be today, though the negotiations will be lengthy whether or not they are substantive.

The North might dismantle parts of its nuclear program, but NightWatch judges it will never surrender its warheads.

North Korea-Thailand: Thai authorities detained five people who landed in Bangkok in an east European cargo plane filled with North Korean rocket-propelled grenades, missiles and other weapons, Bangkok Post reported 12 December. Thai military officials seized the weapons and transferred them to Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base near Nakhon Sawan. The nationalities of the five people have not been confirmed, but a military spokesman said the chartered plane originated in Pyongyang.

The pilot of the plane told Thai authorities that the arms shipment was destined for Ukraine, Thai News Agency reported 13 December. Under custodial interrogation, the pilot, a Belarusian national, said the plane left Ukraine to pick up the cargo in an Asian nation, but that he had no knowledge that the cargo was an arms cache and would only provide additional information in court.

The problem with the pilot's story is that from North Korea to Eastern Europe tend to overfly Russia, using a northern route. The southern route is used for flights to Pakistan, Iran, Syria or Egypt.

North Korea also is highly unlikely to stop selling weapons, unless the market for weapons disappears.

Pakistan: Update. On Saturday, Prime Minister Gilani announced the South Waziristan operation had ended. After a pause, a new operation in the Orakzai Agency would begin. Today, He reversed himself. The South Waziristan operation is to be expanded.

Afghanistan: For the record. U.S. Central Command chief General David Petraeus said 13 December that Pakistan must put pressure on Afghan Taliban leaders hiding in Pakistan, in order for progress to be made in Afghanistan, Agence France-Presse reported, citing a statement Petraeus made on the sidelines of the Manama Dialogue security conference in Bahrain.

This might be the first time a senior official has urged Pakistan in public to put pressure on Mullah Omar and the Quetta Shura, the Haqqanis and Hekmatyar. Only a bit more than a week since the NightWatch comment on this very topic.

Iraq-Ukraine-US: Thanks to feedback from a brilliant and attentive Reader, NightWatch received information from an eastern European news service that reported that the large arms deal between Iraq and Ukraine has the full support of the US, which helped arrange it. That is very helpful and the deal is probably really good, but the US involvement actually deepens the questions about deals that enable other countries to prosper because of sacrifices by US military personnel. To be sure, it happens a lot. That is one of the issues.

Iran-Syria: Update. Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi and Syrian Defense Minister Ali Mohammad Habib Mahmoud signed a mutual defense agreement on 11 December, according to the Jerusalem Post 12 December, which cited an Iranian Press TV report.

The actual terms are not yet available in the press, but a mutual defense agreement would complicate US and allied strategic planning a little, if the agreement includes the idea that an attack on one is an attack on both.

Iran-Hamas: On 13 December President Ahmadi-Nejad met Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal in Tehran, Fars News Agency reported. Meshaal said during the talks that Hamas and the Palestinian resistance will continue to fight "world arrogance;" Ahmadi-Nejad said Iran will always stand by the Palestinian people.

Press coverage of two of Iran's proxies west of Iraq in one weekend is worth noting. Only Lebanese Hezbollah and the al Huthis of Yemen were not mentioned. Iran appears to be using diplomacy to shore up its proxies and blunt the impact of more sanctions, should they be imposed.

Chile: During this Watch, the Wall Street Journal reported Conservative Sebastián Piñera appeared headed for a win in today's presidential election, though falling short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff.

With nearly 60% of polling places reporting, Mr. Piñera had 44.2% of the vote, compared to 30.5% for his closest challenger and likely runoff opponent, Eduardo Frei, of the governing center-left Concertación coalition. Two other left-of-center candidates divided the remaining votes.

Chilean voters appear to want a change for the center-left policies of the outgoing administration. He would be the first conservative president since Pinochet departed in 1990. The runoff is set for 17 January.

End of NightWatch for 13 December.

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