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NightWatch 20110426


For the Night of 26 April 2011

South Korea-China: After meeting with Chinese envoys, an unidentified senior South Korean official said the climate for denuclearization talks on the Korean Peninsula is improving. Chinese and South Korean officials agreed on an incremental plan for resuming talks that China proposed two or more weeks ago. China and South Korea support early nuclear talks between the North and South, the official said. The South is prepared to accept a proposal for talks should the North offer one. The official said Seoul is waiting for a "lucid expression" of the North's position.

Comment: This is the first public readout from the flurry of recent diplomatic activity among the parties to the Six Party Talks. This activity included a meeting in Beijing by North Korea's top negotiator, Kim Kye Gwan, with his Chinese counterpart, Wu Dawei.

The Chinese proposal, according to several knowledgeable sources, is to fragment the talks into a three step process. The first would be a resumption of bilateral talks between the Koreas. The second step would be bilateral talks between North Korea and the US. The third step would be a resumption of Six Party talks.

The Chinese proposal places the burden of progress on North Korea, South Korea and the US, and neatly sidesteps the US intention of having China bring North Korea to the talks. It is a non-starter unless South Korea abandons its demand that the North make amends for sinking a South Korean naval patrol ship last year and for shelling a South Korean island in the Yellow Sea.

The language of today's statement does not suggest progress beyond a general agreement that talks are better than shooting. There is no sign the North is prepared to agree to end its nuclear weapons program or its new uranium enrichment program, even it if attended a meeting or two. There also is no sign North Korea is willing to accept responsibility for its provocations last year.

Cambodia-Thailand: Three Thai soldiers and three villagers were injured when Thai and Cambodians exchanged fire Tuesday afternoon. The two sides also exchanged fire on 26 April, making it the fifth day of border fighting.

Cambodia claimed the Royal Thai Air Force reconnaissance aircraft flew over Cambodia on the 25th. The Thai claimed it was a misunderstanding.

Cambodia's Defense Ministry said Thai Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon had spoken to his Cambodian counterpart Tea Banh by phone on 26 April. The ministry said Tea Banh agreed to meet his counterpart in Phnom Penh to discuss the cease-fire between the two countries in the very near future. The statement did not provide a date for the talks, but said the cease-fire discussions were originally proposed by General Prawit.

Thailand's Defense Minister, however, cancelled a planned trip to Cambodia Wednesday for ceasefire talks, an army spokesman said. "We decided last night to cancel General Prawit Wongsuwon's trip to Phnom Penh after some Cambodia media reported Thailand agreed to ceasefire talks after it admitted defeat and losses," said Colonel Sunsern Kaewkumnerd.

Comment: The cross border firing was almost perfunctory on the 26th, ensuring neither side took advantage of the reduced fighting. Both nations continue to show they do not seek an escalation of the border fighting into general war, but neither appears willing to compromise its claims to the temples which are central to the larger border dispute. Boasting in the media will prolong the process.

Pakistan: Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan - the Pakistani Taliban -- claimed responsibility for the bomb attacks on two Pakistan Navy buses in Karachi which killed 4 naval personnel and injured more than 50.

Comment: This and similar attacks are executed to show that the guardians of the state are unable to protect themselves. That is a powerful terror message to everyday citizens. It is an old message, but still effective in undermining confidence in the forces of order.

Attacks against symbols of authority in Pakistan are important in demonstrating that the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban are not identical, do not share common goals, and do no operate under a single leadership.

The idea of a unitary threat against Pakistan and Afghanistan is contradicted by every attack such as that in Karachi. The Pashtun insurrection in Afghanistan overlaps into Pakistan, as do the Pashtuns themselves, but it is very different in composition, economic class and political direction from the Waziri fighters and bandits of the Pakistani Taliban who want to overthrow the government in Islamabad.

Yemen: The Saleh government and opposition will sign a Gulf Cooperation Council-brokered agreement in Riyadh on 27 April to end the political unrest in Yemen, officials from both sides said April 26, AFP reported.

Comment: A snag in the process is that the youth cohort of the opposition has rejected the agreement because of its surety of immunity from prosecution for Saleh. The youth have called for a million-person demonstration this week. For them, the established political elite is betraying the revolution, as in Tunisia and Egypt.

Syria: Security forces and snipers have been deployed to the hills around the coastal city of Baniyas, a protest leader said on 26 April. Armored vehicles also reportedly were observed en route Baniyas, as part of the buildup for a Syrian Army attack on another town in revolt. Other services reported Army action against Jableh and Douma as well.

Reports from Daraa indicate Army personnel killed 35 people, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Comment: The crackdown on pubic dissent appears to be nationwide, but the information is fragmentary.

Egypt: The Supreme Military Council and Foreign Ministry have discussed opening offices for the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas in Cairo, similar to the offices of Fatah for the Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, several news services reported. A delegation from Hamas will visit Cairo to discuss the idea at a later date.

Comment: Under Mubarak, Egypt never permitted Hamas to have representation on an equal footing with the Palestinian Authority, which has international stature. The interim Egyptian administration, which has not been elected or approved in a democratic referendum, is acting as if it has a mandate to craft a new foreign policy that moves Egypt out of the pro-US camp, politically, and more towards the anti-Israel camp, led by Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah.

No news services have investigated, identified or described the personalities driving the drift towards Iran or the reasons a short term administration uses to justify a radical change in policy. An Egyptian administration that is sympathetic to Iran is a potential threat to Israel and to regional stability.

Libya: Pro-Qadhafi forces have reinforced their positions around the eastern town of Marsa el Brega and dug in their long-range rocket batteries to hide them from NATO warplanes, a rebel army officer said on 26 April. He said there are 3,000 Libyan army troops in Marsa el Brega and two neighboring towns. Qadhafi's forces also fired rockets and launched a ground attack against the port of Misrata, a rebel spokesman said. NATO air strikes reportedly stopped the attack.

Comment: As described, the pro-Qadhafi forces are deployed to prevent any relief for Misrata from rebel-controlled Ajdabiya. Today's attack on the port of Misrata is a good indication Qadhafi has not given up recovering that city and, at a minim intends to deny NATO or the rebels free use of the port.

Actions by Qadhafi's forces at Misrata indicate that Libyan official statements about withdrawing over the weekend were a cover story for preparations for another attempt to seize the port.

End of NightWatch for 26 April.

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