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NightWatch 20100217

NightWatch For the Night of 17 February 2010

North Korea: A South Korean news service reported today that the North Korean Workers' Party and government have undergone significant changes during the past year. According to information from South Korea's Unification Ministry, the Workers' Party streamlined its organization by reducing the number of party departments from 21 to 18.

The ministry also disclosed that Party Office 35, which handled espionage against South Korea and other parts of the world, and the Operations Department were integrated and moved to the Reconnaissance Bureau of the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces

One manifestation of the change is the increased public prominence of Kim Kyong-hui, sister of the North's leader Kim Jong Il (Kim Cho'ng-il). Ms. Kim has avoided public appearances prominence for years, but apparently rallied to her brother's side after his stroke and during his rehabilitation. "She has recently been accompanying her brother to field inspections," a Unification Ministry official told reporters in a background briefing. The public images of her with her brother establish her importance in the power structure for the North Korean public.

She has been the Minister of Light Industry and is married to Chang Song taek, who is another power broker in the regime. She also has been reported to be in charge of currency operations after the disastrous currency reform.

Comment: These and several other changes indicate a tightening of control in several key regime activities. Some observers rightly note that since his stroke Kim Chong il has relied more visibly and prominently on his family. He has always been close to his sister.

Another suggestion is that Kim is reining in some of the more provocative anti-South Korean entities to concentrate national resources and energy on achieving the national goal of making the country strong and prosperous by 2012. Kim finally has embraced some of the priorities that his father, the late Kim Il sung, established in 1993, before his death. These included increased food production and production of more consumer goods - the responsibility of the Light Industry Ministry.

A third suggestion is that the family has rallied to prepare the third and youngest son of Kim Chong ill for leadership. Chang Song taek has been reported as the designated "regent" for Kim Jong un.

The changes seem to be the internal counterparts to recent changes in foreign policy that project a more cooperative and less belligerent image of North Korea. However, the cooperative actions have been inconsistent this year and sometimes contradicted by testiness and strong statements usually by military spokesmen that threaten South Korea.

India-Pakistan: India's External Affairs Ministry told Pakistan that the coming meeting of the Foreign Secretaries on 25 February could discuss all subjects but New Delhi will focus only on terror. The message was conveyed to Pakistan High Commissioner Shahid Malik when he met Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao for discussions ahead of the talks. "We told them our concerns on terror will definitely figure and then we can look at the state of affairs on bilateral issues and confidence-building measures. Some friendly visits between the two sides can also take place," said sources in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

In a television interview, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna repeated the point. He said the Foreign Secretary-level talks were aimed at carrying forward the core issue as India was concerned about terror and terror-driven activities. "We thought that it is necessary to engage Pakistan in dialogue. Hence we offered that the talks take place at the Foreign Secretary-level. We do not know what issues the Pakistan Foreign Secretary is going to raise. The brief for our Secretary is that terror is the centre and focus point of talks," he said.

Krishna clarified that the composite dialogue between India and Pakistan was suspended and would not happen anytime soon.

The composite and comprehensive dialogue was suspended after the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. The terror attack in Pune, near Mumbai, this week probably reinforced India's commitment to discuss terror-related issues.

Pakistan: Update. Military spokesman Major General Abbas today confirmed the arrest of Taliban commander Mullah Berader, according to Dawn News TV. Abbas, the Director General of Inter Services Public Relations [ISPR], said that an identification process has revealed that Mullah Berader is in custody. The army has refused to release details of the arrest. Earlier today Foreign Minister Qureshi confirmed that Berader was captured in Karachi.

Aaj News Television reported that Pakistani authorities arrested Abu-Musa, a close associate of Osama Bin Ladin, and two aides, also in Karachi. Security agencies arrested the three in Karachi's Gulshan-e-Iqbal region, according to the report.

Comment: The report contained no details as to the date of the arrests, but implied it was recent. With the capture of Mullah Berader, it appears the government is executing a crackdown in Karachi.

Russia-Abkhazia: Russia and Abkhazia signed an agreement on Wednesday to establish a Russian military base in Abkhazia, according to Interfax. Russian President Medvedev announced the agreement at a news conference in Moscow with Abkhazia's President, Sergei V. Bagapsh.

The agreement calls for the base to house about 1,700 Russian troops for a minimum of 49 years, according to Interfax, with options for extensions in 15-year increments. Interfax reported that Russia is expected to sign a similar agreement with South Ossetia.

An agreement was reached last spring enabling Russian border guards to protect the Georgian-Abkhazian border, and in the fall, Russia and Abkhazia signed a military cooperation agreement, which opened the door to building a Russian military base with headquarters in Gudauta. Almost immediately Russian coastal guards began working on a naval base in Ochamchir with patrol boats.

Comment: The significance is that it reinforces Russia's support for the permanent fragmentation of Georgia by committing Russian forces to defend Abkhazia. That is not new, but announcement of a base will have a chilling effect on NATO consideration of Georgia's suitability for membership. It also adds to the building tension in Eastern Europe between Russia and two other NATO members, Poland and Romania, over ballistic missile defense installations that Russia is convinced are aimed at it.

Russia-Iran: Update. The Interfax news agency on Wednesday cited a top Russian defense official as saying that S-300 air defense missiles will be delivered to Iran once unspecified technical problems are resolved.

Alexander Fomin, deputy head of the Federal Military-Technical Cooperation Service, was quoted as saying "the delay is taking place because of technical problems. The delivery will take place when they have been resolved."

Later in the day, Vladimir Kazparyants, the head of Russian arms manufacturer Almaz-Antey, said technical problems are not behind delay in delivery of the S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Iran, DPA reported. Kazparyants attributed the delay to "politics." The defense company manager said the industry was already being reimbursed from the federal budget for the delayed S-300 shipments to Iran.

The Jerusalem Post reported a self-satisfied, almost gloating Prime Minister Netanyahu who praised Russia for its understanding of Middle East issues. The Post also quoted a Russian analyst who assessed that Netanyahu promised to not deliver weapons to Georgia, if Russia does not ship its S-300-P Angara (SA-10 Grumble) surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems to Iran.

The Post reported that Israel had supplied small firearms, unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) and SAMs to Georgia before the August 2008 Russian-Georgian conflict. Private Israeli military companies also trained Georgian military personnel. Although Russia signed a contract for the delivery of S-300 SAMs to Tehran in 2007, it suspended shipments in mid-2009 without any explanations.

Apparently the delivery is on hold again, at least until the Iranians sweeten the deal.

End of NightWatch for 17 February.

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