For the night of 18 September 2012
North Korea-Russia: Russian media report that Russia has written off 90% of North Korea's $11 billion debt. The Russian finance ministry on Tuesday confirmed that it has signed a debt deal with North Korea, but refused to provide immediate details.
A Russian official said Moscow hopes to win North Korean cooperation so Russia can build a trans-Korean railroad, an electricity line and a gas pipeline that would transport Russia's gas though North Korea to South Korea.
Comment: The prospects are almost vanishingly small that Russia can engage in economically profitable ventures with North Korea. North Korea is the graveyard of investment, mainly because of chronic communist mismanagement and avarice.
For Russia, the real profits are in South Korea -- in weaning it away from reliance on nuclear electric power generation and switching to safer Russian natural gas, in light of the effects of the Japanese tsunami. North Korea is the cheapest transit route to the South and through which access rights must be paid
Nevertheless, the Russian investment targets poach on Chinese interests in North Korea, particularly railroad links. The Russian link would run along the east coast of North Korea and link to Vladivostok. Chinese rail projects run along the west coast of North Korea and link to Beijing.
For North Korea, any money-making arrangement that reduces North Korean dependence on China and costs almost nothing is a good thing. North Koreans have more affinity with Russia than with China. The North's leadership tries to manipulate ties with Russia, and sometimes the US, to balance their ties with China.
China-Japan-US: China's national defense minister warned Tuesday that Beijing reserves the right to take further action against Japan in the dispute over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, known as the Senkaku/Diaoyu in the latest episode. Standing next to US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, General Liang Guanglie said Japan should bear full responsibility for the dispute, which has triggered violent protests in China against the Japanese.
Comment: Japanese commercial enterprises closed for a second day because of the threat of government-orchestrated protests. Readers should know that in China public demonstrations always are government arranged, approved, organized and executed. Spontaneity is not a trait of this communist government.
The Chinese national defense minister's statement during a public appearance with the US Secretary of Defense is a serious breach of protocol. It was a deliberate insult to the US and Japan and signifies contempt. Chinese leaders apparently judge they can get away with any kind of demeaning behavior with a US Defense Secretary.
Pakistan: Prime Minister Ashraf agreed to comply with the Supreme Court's order that the government request Swiss authorities to reopen the corruption case against Pakistani President Zardari, which was suspended before he became president. The Court granted the Prime Minister another week in which to produce for Court review the letter he proposes to send to Switzerland.
Comment: The prime minister's agreement removes the deadlock between governmental institutions and strengthens the parliament and the judiciary which is administratively part of the executive branch in Pakistan's parliamentary system.
Readers will recall that the Pakistani president is not elected by the direct vote of the people. Rather he is elected by an electoral college composed of the members of the national and provincial parliaments. Thus successful parliamentary elections are a condition for a presidential selection.
Ashraf's action means that government can proceed with some measure of normality. It reduces political tension, the likelihood of a continuing series of no confidence motions by Nawaz Sharif's political opposition, and the risk that the Army leadership might feel constrained to fix the government.
Prime Minister Ashraf took action to protect civilian, elected government in Pakistan. The government's term will end in 2013 and will require selection of a replacement for Zardari. The Pakistan Peoples' Party government now is almost certain to complete a full term, which is rare in Pakistan's history.
Meanwhile, the legal processes will take a long time, on which all parties are counting, including the Swiss. This is a win-win outcome for the Pakistan Supreme Court, the Pakistan Peoples' Party and the Swiss.
Somalia: For the record. Fighters from Somalia's Islamist extremist rebels have started to leave their remaining coastal stronghold of Kismayo in the face of advancing allied African troops, according to residents and a military official.
Armed militants from al-Shabaab, which is allied to al-Qaida, left Kismayo in pickup trucks after freeing prisoners in the town's jail, Muse Hassan, a Kismayo resident said by phone.
Comment: This is a significant change because it means the African allied forces with US and other Western assistance are making progress in recovering territory from al Shabaab. This is tonight's good news.
Switzerland-US: Three Swiss engineers accused of participating in a global nuclear smuggling ring are set to avoid further prison time, in part because they helped the CIA bust the network that was supplying Libya's nuclear weapons program, under Qadhafi. The network is that of Pakistan's Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan.
Prosecution documents released Tuesday outlined a plea bargain agreement under which Urs Tinner, 46, his brother Marco, 43, and their 74-year-old father, Friedrich, would accept the charges against them in return for prison terms that are shorter than the time they have already spent in investigative custody.
Comment: These three men were key players in the nuclear proliferation network of Pakistan's A.Q. Khan. The Associated Press has published a detailed account of the relationship among the Tinners, Khan and the CIA.
All of the Tinner smuggling enterprises, led by Khan, were devoted to proliferating nuclear weapons technology exclusively to countries hostile to the United States, including Iran as well as Libya with ripple effects to North Korea.
Khan is the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program and is considered a national hero to most Pakistanis, despite being under arrest for violating Pakistani laws. His actions and his career show he was and remains viscerally hostile to the US.
NightWatch judges Khan's network remains capable of reconstitution and is a latent proliferation threat. Release of the Tinners for time served would re-activate that threat. The damage that Khan and the Tinners did to the cause of global nuclear non-proliferation simply cannot be overstated. They committed crimes against humanity without killing anyone.
End of NightWatch for 18 September.
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