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NightWatch 20120829

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For the night of 29 August 2012

North Korea: According to a Japanese press outlet, North Korea wants to attend next month's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Russia. Pyongyang reportedly sent an envoy to Russia in mid-July to seek permission to attend with guest status.

Comment: The North needs aid and a strategic breakout that facilitates aid without relying on the US and South Korea.

Japan and North Korea: Officials held the first direct talks in four years. The subject of today's talks was recovering Japanese military remains in North Korea from World War II. There are no reports about atmospherics or substance of the talks. What is irreducible is that the two enemies have opened a channel of communication.

Comment: The US experience with North Korea concerning the ultimate fate of more than 8,000 US military personnel missing in action at the end of the Korean War might serve as a useful model for Japan.

North Korean cooperation on missing in action investigations with the US often continued long after higher visibility diplomatic contacts failed. The key factors in continuation of the cooperation were US willingness to pay for the field research and the North's decision to maintain a low visibility communication link to the US. The US maintained a direct communications line to the North Korean leadership in Pyongyang during all MIA investigations.

Another issue was hard currency. In the POW/MIA excavations in northern Vietnam during the past two decades, for example, the rule of thumb among investigators was that Hanoi charged Washington $1 million for every spade of earth turned to find out what happened to a US military person. US excavations in Vietnam in the late 1980s and early 1990s were an "off-the-books" source of direct US aid to Vietnam at a time when the US had no official relations with Vietnam.

The Japanese have apparently broken the code that large infusions of money can help keep open informal channels of communications even if excavations for men missing in action from World War II are not productive.

Iran-Egypt: For the record. Egyptian President Mursi arrived in Tehran from Beijing during this Watch to attend the Non-Aligned Movement conference.

Comment: News services reported that more than 120 nations sent delegations to this meeting whose themes are anti-US. The success to date of this meeting is a powerful reaction against a mono-polar world dominated by the United States. The reaction is not so much against US power as against US meddling in the internal affairs of states. For now, Iran is a leader of the movement. Even Turkey and Pakistan sent high level delegations.

End of NightWatch for 29 August.

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