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NightWatch 20110822


For the Night of 22 August 2011

South Korea-North Korea: North Korea said on Monday that it "believes that the South Korean authorities totally abandoned the protection of property and interests of enterprises" in the Mount Kumgang resort and will "legally dispose of all the South Korean properties including real estate, equipment and vehicles" there, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

It added that all South Korean facilities in the resort are sealed off and assets are prohibited from being taken out of the country as of Monday. It also ordered the 14 South Korean caretaker staff to leave the country within 72 hours.

Comment: The South's investment in intra-Korean relations and the last vestige of the Sunshine/Engagement policy of the early 2000's has ended in North Korean confiscation of the assets at Mount Kumgang.

The North Koreans will confiscate assets or renege on agreements whenever a new negotiation offers the prospects of better terms. The North intends to auction tourism management rights to the highest bidder.

Earlier rumors indicated that Russian developers, along with Chinese and others, wanted to take over the Mount Kumgang resort and tourism enterprise. The irony is that South Korean firms might be members of the bidding pool, rebidding on South Korean assets at a higher price. This is vintage North Korean leadership money-grubbing behavior.

North Korea: South Korean press reported Kim Chong-il arrived in Ulan Ude on 23 August for the summit with Russian President Medvedev.

Russia-North Korea: For the record. The commander of the Russian Far Eastern Military District, Admiral Konstantin Sidenko, left for North Korea on 22 August to meet with local army commanders about developing military and naval cooperation, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said, RIA Novosti reported. Sidenko's visit will end on 26 August.

Iran-US: In an interview with the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), the attorney for the US backpackers sentenced for espionage said: "I went to the Revolution Court on Sunday, 21 August, morning and I was instructed that two of my clients had been each sentenced to 8 years in prison by Bench 15."

He reminded that the sentence can be appealed and said: "Naturally, I will use all legal venues in order to restore their clients' rights."

Comment: During Ramadan, it is customary for Muslims governments to pardon criminals. Some experts have proposed that this is the intent of Iran's leaders with respect to the two US youths still in Iranian prison. For that scenario to occur, Iran's leaders must anticipate some gain in US relations by making a unilateral act of clemency.

That scenario appears to have been made moot by the US President's call for Syrian President al-Asad to resign from office last week. Sometimes it is important to consider linkages, branches and sequels; in other words to think actions through along all known lines of consequences.

On the other hand, Iranian leaders like to assert moral superiority over the US and might just release the two backpackers for that purpose.

Israel: A Kassam from the Gaza Strip exploded in an open field in Israel's Ashkelon Coast Regional Council shortly after noon on 22 August. There were no reported injuries or damage

Hamas supposedly has reached "informal and indirect" understandings with Israel through Egyptian mediation, according to Ghazi Hamad, deputy foreign minister for the Hamas administration. The Popular Resistance Committees also said they would temporarily stop their rocket fire.

Meanwhile, the Israeli prime minister's office denied any signed cease-fire pact, "not directly and not indirectly," Army Radio reported. An unnamed source with the office said his country is following the "implementation of the cease fire," and Israel would respond "accordingly" to shooting.

Comment: The Palestinian Authority and now Hamas cannot guarantee the behavior of all Palestinians armed groups. Israel has no authoritative and trustworthy negotiating partner. That skepticism explains the Israeli retaliation doctrine.

Egypt-Israel: Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) chief Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi halted the recall of Egypt's Ambassador to Israel Yasser Rida, according to Maariv. Rida reportedly already was packed to depart when Tantawi overruled a decision made by Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and his Cabinet. According to reports, Tantawi summoned Sharaf to request overturning the decision.

Comment: Tension increased over the deaths of three Egyptian security personnel accidentally killed in encounter in which cross-border terrorists fled back to Egypt followed by Israelis in hot pursuit. Anti-Israel demonstrations took place and the Sharaf cabinet caved to public pressure by activists for action against Israel.

This is the second instance this summer when the cabinet simply caved to street activists. Field Marshal Tantawi showed the cabinet where the real power still resides.

Libya: Pro-Qadhafi media reported that Qadhafi's son, Saif al-Islam, turned up early Tuesday morning at the Rixos Hotel, where about 30 foreign journalists are staying in Tripoli under the close watch of regime minders. He then took reporters in a convoy of black, armored SUVs on a drive through parts of the city under the regime's control.

Associated Press reporters were among the journalists who saw him and went on the tour. He told the reporters: "We are going to hit the hottest spots in Tripoli."

Comment: Two aspects of Saif's ostentatious gesture are worth noting. First, it provided some clarification to reports about the extent of rebel control in Tripoli. The fight for Tripoli is not ended, though the Qadhafi dynasty is.

Pro-Qadhafi forces hold enough of the capital sufficiently secure so that Saif al-Islam -- a Qadhafi son obviously not in custody as the rebels claimed -- was able to be driven around posh neighborhoods of Tripoli in a white stretch limousine with no difficulty.

The second point is that the neighborhoods in which Saif was driven apparently represent the neighborhoods of the richest retainers of the Qadhafi dynasty. Saif's bravado identified them as targets.

End of NightWatch for 22 August.

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