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NightWatch 20120523

NightWatch Graphic


For the night of 22 May 2012

North Korea: The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) published North Korea's reaction today, 22 May, to criticism at the G8 summit.

"We resolutely denounce and totally reject the fact that, through the so-called meeting declaration, the participants in the G8 summit, which was recently held in the United States, unjustly took issue with our peaceful satellite launch and self-defensive nuclear deterrent. "

"Absolutely intolerable is the reckless political provocation by the G8 to violate our Republic's sacred sovereignty as it was steeped in the bad habit of protecting and siding with the United States' hostile policy toward the DPRK in disregard of justice and truth."

"We will boldly crush all sorts of obstruction maneuvers by the hostile forces and squarely continue exercising our sovereign right to launch satellites in accordance with the essential requirement for building an economically powerful state."

"Our self-defensive nuclear deterrent came into existence due to the hostile policy of the United States to stifle our Republic by force, and the nuclear deterrent will be expanded and bolstered nonstop even for a moment as long as the hostile policy goes on."

"The road toward a peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula through dialogue and negotiation still exists, but it [the road] will never open until the United States demonstrates, through action, its withdrawal of the hostile policy toward us."

"We notified the US side several weeks ago that we are restraining ourselves (emphasis added) in real actions though we are not bound to the restrictions of the 29 February US-DPRK agreement, taking into consideration its concern for the purpose of guaranteeing peace and stability on the Korean peninsula to concentrate all of our energy on peaceful development."

"We did not envision a military measure like a nuclear test as we originally planned to launch a peaceful scientific and technological satellite in the first place…"

Comment: Press coverage of this statement grossly exaggerated and misconstrued its content and tone. This was a mild, almost pro forma, reaction. NightWatch repeated verbatim the North's English version of the Foreign Ministry statement so Readers could distinguish what the North said from the interpretations others made.

Readers should note that the G8 declaration invested North Korea with international stature in a venue where it is usually irrelevant. The North replied with two invitations to talk, almost begging for a response.

The North's comment about more satellite launches and expansion and bolstering of the nuclear deterrent are chest thumping. The North has no ability to try another space launch anytime soon and has almost no proven ability to enlarge its stockpile of fissile material, much less nuclear weapons. The language describes North Korean measures as reactions to the hostile policy of the US, not as assertive threats. That means the North will stop if the US stops. Reciprocity always is a hard point for negotiation.

More important is the statement that the path to resolution still exists. That is an open invitation to the US to respond.

The next paragraph is even more startling. It asserts that the North is adhering to the 29 February US-North Korean agreement even though Pyongyang does not acknowledge any obligation to do so, AND has notified the US that it is doing so. This point has not been mentioned in mainstream coverage. The implied question is why the US has not replied to the North's notification.

The 29 February agreement committed North Korea to freeze its nuclear program, halt uranium enrichment, halt missile test launches and accept UN inspections.

In sum, today's statement is not a threat to detonate a nuclear device; it is a plea for talks and assistance.

Conditions are deteriorating in North Korea, but it does not know how to ask for help. Last week three people were executed for cannibalism. The last time there were reports of cannibalism in North Korea was during the 1996 famine when millions died of starvation.

North Korea-China: All 29 Chinese fishermen and their three fishing boats that were seized and held for ransom on 8 May, were released on Sunday, the North Korean foreign ministry said.

A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Pyongyang told Xinhua that the North's foreign ministry had notified the embassy of the latest development. The Chinese statement said the fishermen were treated adequately.

Press interviews with the fishermen related a less diplomatic narrative of their detention. "They used the back of their machine guns to hit us and also kicked us," said Wang Lijie, one of 29 fishermen in a telephone interview on Tuesday. "They stripped us of all our clothes after the beating, including sock and shoes. Most of us had only underwear left."

"The North Koreans drained the three fishing boats of fuel and also removed almost all the caught fish and the food and cooking oil stored for the journey. The fisherman were allowed out once or twice a day to cook small rations of grain, but were otherwise confined in a tiny storage room while their captors negotiated for ransom."

The hostage takers initially demanded $65,000 per ship, according to the ships' owners, which apparently the Chinese refused to pay.

Comment: The Chinese fishermen were explicit in identifying their captors as North Korean military personnel, almost certainly a naval patrol. As reported in an earlier edition, North Korean naval commands are expected to pay for most of their daily living expenses through fishing or piracy.

The Chinese fishermen were seized in an act of piracy, not law enforcement. A ransom had to have been paid, but less than $65,000 per ship. That is an enormous sum for a North Korean military command, which operates on a shoestring budget. The conclusion is ineluctable that North Korean naval patrols use piracy to help finance their operations.

The interviews provide a detailed open source look at what occurs when North Korea holds captives for ransom. The theft of even personal items should be understood as evidence of how poorly North Korea supplies its navy and other military commands.

New Zealand-Afghanistan: Prime Minister John Key said New Zealand "will withdraw its small contingent of troops from Afghanistan a year earlier than planned. Prime Minister Key told reporters Tuesday that the 145 New Zealand troops stationed in Bamiyan Province will come home in late 2013 rather than 2014.

Comment: The Hazara tribes of Bamiyan Province are Mongoloid and Shiites. The Taliban never conquered them, but they were never fully accepted by the Karzai government. The Pashtuns, who are Sunni Muslim, despise the Hazaras of Bamiyan.

The small New Zealand contingent brought and preserved stability for this much maligned minority. Owing to the New Zealanders, the mountainous remoteness of the province and the ethnic homogeneity of the Hazara population, Bamiyan has been by far the most stable of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan since 2001. Bamiyan Province is one of the few unqualified successes in Afghanistan, and New Zealand is not a NATO member.

Pakistan-Turkey: Turkish Prime Minister Endogen on Monday, 21 May, vowed to always stand by Pakistan in its hour of trial. Addressing the joint sitting of both the Houses of Parliament in Islamabad, he said the two countries would continue to strengthen their close ties in different fields.

Erdogan said the multiparty system in Pakistan is strength of the country and parliament can safeguard the interests of the people of Pakistan. "A strong democratic Pakistan has much to do with regional peace, prosperity and stability," he added.

The Turkish prime minister lauded the democratic process in Pakistan and expressed the confidence that parliamentarians would address the challenges facing Pakistan. He said democracy had now become a global culture. Turkey, a NATO ally with troops in Afghanistan, backed Pakistan' s demand for a US apology for the death of Pakistani civilians in a drone strike last November.

Comment: What many Readers might not know is that the Pakistan Army has maintained a longtime and strong connection to the Turkish Army. General Musharraf trained in Turkey and was a great admirer of Ataturk, despite the fact that the Pakistan Army is pro-Islamist and definitely not secularist.

Erdogan has been the architect of the program by which Turkey has moved away from the secular legacy of Ataturk, confined the Turkish Army to barracks, prosecuted top military leaders for sedition and moved Turkey in the direction of an Islamist state.

Pakistan's civilian political leaders do not yet have Erdogan's stature or power over the Army, but Erdogan's presence in Islamabad shows the direction President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani hope to steer Pakistan.

It is ironic that Turkey is the model both for military activism as well as civilian control of the military. The difference is that the Turkish military promotes secular values, whereas the Pakistan Army promotes Islam.

Prime Minister Erdogan is an Islamist whose values would resonate well with the Pakistan Army. The Pakistani civilian leaders are secularists who have much more in common with the Turkish Army leaders and the Ataturk legacy than with Erdogan.

Afghanistan-US: The US announced the pending replacement of its ambassador in Kabul this summer. Ambassador Crocker is leaving after ten months of a two year assignment.

Comment: The early replacement of an ambassador or a commanding officer always and in every country signifies a change of policy. Ambassadors and generals who are associated with the prior policy cannot be credible spokespersons for the new policy. Thus they are always changed when a new policy is set in motion.

The new policy in Afghanistan is that the US is pulling out its soldiers by the end of 2014 regardless of conditions on the ground. That was not the policy ten months ago when Crocker came out of retirement to head the US Embassy in Kabul.

Egypt: Comment: Presidential elections will be held on 23 and 24 May. Without the intimidating political machine that former President Mubarak directed, this election might be the only fair election in Egyptian history.

It might also be a total disaster because Egyptians favor no single candidate. That means that second choices in a proportional ballot might determine the future leadership of the government of Egypt.

All the polling and anecdotal evidence points to an Islamist president in Cairo, but probably not from the Muslim Brotherhood.

End of NightWatch for 22 May.

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