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NightWatch 20110923


For the night of 23 September 2011

North Korea-US: North Korea and the United States will resume talks next month on recovering the remains of American troops killed during the 1950-53 Korean War, a South Korean official said Friday. Last month, North Korea accepted a US request for talks on resuming remains recovery for the American war dead. Nearly 8,000 U.S. service members are listed as missing from the war and the remains of more than half of them are estimated to be buried in the communist nation.

The South Korean official said the North Korea-U.S. talks might take place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where the two sides had held meetings on the issue before

Special Comment: The remains recovery operations are extremely important, but the US investigators never ask about living men. Some were seen north of Pyongyang plowing fields - pulling plows in harness in place of horses or oxen -- by very credible eyewitnesses about the time of the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs in 1992. They are not all dead by any means. Why not ask about the living?

The North's willingness to resume the bones exhumation operations means it is scraping the barrel for money-paying engagement opportunities with the US.  Every shovel of dirt turned in digging graves in North Korea in the past has cost US taxpayers about a $1 million, much of it paid to Pyongyang for its support.

The US usually hopes these talks and operations, if they result, will be the first steps in yet another diplomatic engagement process --- with the hope that process will lead to substantive talks.

This will be the fourth time that a US administration has tried this tactic since the 1992 Senate Select Committee. In the past three, the pattern has been that the North gets paid; bones get found; a few MIA cases are settled, but the operations always remain self-contained. They show improved atmospherics, but never lead to anything but grave digging and jobs for North Korean diggers.

They are far preferable to shooting provocations, to be sure, but they are no guarantee that shooting incidents will not occur. They mean that another US administration has no new ideas about how to handle the North Koreans and has chosen to try what failed for its predecessors. A breakthrough is highly unlikely, unless the US gives in to North Korean demands for a peace treaty and the withdrawal of US forces.

Readers need to remember that many Korean War veterans remain alive and hearty in the US, North Korea, South Korea, China and Russia and in UN Command countries. The North allows a South Korean veteran held in captivity since the war to escape to China every year or so, to prove it. Bone searches are good; searches for living men still in captivity are far better.

Yemen: President Saleh returned home to Yemen on Friday after more than three months of convalescence in Saudi Arabia for wounds from an assassination attempt this summer. Hours after his return, the fighting intensified with shelling against the strongholds of Saleh's opponents in the capital.

Saleh made no immediate public appearances, but his return breathed life into the camp of his supporters who turned up in the thousands for the Friday sermon that became a massive show of faith in the country's leader for 33 years

Comment: Those analysts who were expecting a contrite, conciliatory Saleh upon his return are disappointed. His return has revived the spirits of his supporters and portends more vigorous, better led suppression operations against his opponents in the near term.


Saudi Arabia: Yemeni President Saleh returned to San'a to stabilize the country and to prepare for elections, a senior Saudi official said. Saleh will then leave after this, the official added, without indicating whether Saleh would leave the presidency or Yemen altogether or when.

US: The United States urged Yemeni President Saleh to transfer power and arrange for presidential elections to be held by the end of 2011, a White House spokesman said.

Comment: Saleh has been consistent in promising to leave office pursuant to constitutional requirements and elections. The Saudi comment repeats Saleh's conditions. Significantly, it is not clear just what those conditions mean or the timetable for meeting them.

A point worth highlighting is that there seems to be no clear will of the Yemeni people. The US has taken sides in this dispute for reasons that are not clear because Saleh seems supported by a large portion of the Yemeni tribes and the opposition does not clearly represent a majority of the people.  Moreover, the armed clashes of the past three months without Saleh indicate that the opposition has no superior right to rule Yemen than Saleh has, and arguably a lot less.

Saleh's supporters have not only held on in Sana'a without much trouble, Yemeni government forces also have maintained pressure on al Qaida all summer. The Yemenis seem capable of solving their government problems without outside meddling. Saleh is no good guy, but there are no good guys in this struggle.

Palestinian Authority:  Palestinian President Abbas submitted an application for full UN membership as an independent state on 23 September. Palestinians celebrated in all the towns of the West Bank.

After Abbas submitted his formal application, international mediators called on Israelis and Palestinians to return to long-stalled negotiations and reach an agreement no later than next year. The "Quartet" - the U.S., European Union, UN and Russia - urged both sides to prepare for peace talks within a month and to produce comprehensive proposals on territory and security within three months.

Comment: A US veto, whenever the issue comes to the Security Council for a vote, is rather meaningless in practice in that it does not un-make Palestine as a state if the UN member states recognize Palestine.

A model for Palestinian statehood in defiance of opposition would be Israel's fight against the British occupiers after World War II. That kind of guerilla-cum-conventional fight would be much more damaging to Israel and the US than to the Palestinians.

Abbas is not the man to lead such a fight - too many compromises and capitulations. However, Hamas has a stable of warriors who could, using Israeli tactics against Israel. Iran and Egypt and maybe Iraq would support a fledgling Palestine, fighting for its existence. Abbas looks to have set a trap for the US and Israel … and lots of Arabs too, including the Saudis. He has given the Palestinians a clear, unequivocal national cause. Expect more fighting.

End of NightWatch for 23 September.

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