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NightWatch 20121016

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For the night of 16 October 2012

North Korea: Special Comment: Foreign Policy 's web site ran an article with the headline, "North Korea Rebuffs U.S. At Secret Meeting In China." A careful examination of open source materials related to the meeting indicates that there was no "rebuff" and no "secret" meeting.

The story is about the annual meeting of the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue convened in Dalian, China on 27 and 28 September to discuss regional security. The Dialogue is sponsored by a Chinese institute, an institute at the University of California (whose website has the wrong dates for the meeting), and the South Korean government.

The participants at this year's 23d meeting of the Dialogue included a mix of medium-level officials and non-government persons from each of the members of the Six Party Talks forum.

The US Special Representative to the Six Party Talks led the US delegation. The Deputy Ambassador to the UN led the North Korean delegation. The leaders of the other delegations had the rank of the US Special Representative -- upper-level functionaries.

A North Korean Vice Foreign Minister who had participated in nuclear talks with the US was expected to attend, at least by the South Koreans, and to head the North Korean delegation. The Deputy UN Ambassador has never participated in nuclear talks. He lives in New York. Thus, no bilateral meetings between the US and the North Koreans were scheduled, but one occurred.

North Korean ambassadors are told what to say. They typically have no authority to negotiate on any issue, especially on the nuclear issue. They are errand boys and messengers. True to form, the meetings on the sidelines of the Dialogue sessions involved no negotiations, only a restatement of positions. It does not appear to have been a secret meeting by any measure, based on South Korean press accounts, but it was informal.

Concerning North Korean nuclear policy, nothing has changed. The North's new leadership is struggling with severe internal economic problems. Foreign affairs are a lower priority, manifest in the fact that the Deputy UN Ambassador led the North's delegation.

The rank and identity of the North Korean head of delegation indicated nothing of substance would transpire, before the delegates gathered. The delegates praised the gathering for the airing of viewpoints on Asian security issues, which has been going on interminably for decades.

The only and minor significance of the meeting was that it confirmed there has been no apparent progress in the fundamental review of the nuclear program that the North said it was undertaking in July. The participation of the Deputy UN Ambassador indicates the North attended because the Chinese hosted the meeting but sent the lowest level official they could send without offending the Chinese.

The North sent no experts but did send a new group of foreign ministry desk officers and intelligence analysts, who got an opportunity to travel to China and to listen to and observe the mannerisms of Americans.

Switzerland: In September, Swiss authorities launched a military exercise to test its preparedness to deal with internal civil unrest as well as refugees from the Eurozone crisis, according to international media.

Comment: The Swiss are not prone to overreact to threats. They do not spend defense funds in order to be prepared for potential threats. They prepare for real threats.

The exercise is significant because it means the Swiss have determined that internal civil unrest coupled with refugees from Eurozone countries represent real threats for which their security forces must be prepared. The Swiss understand the meaning and significance of early warning and know about indicators.

Egypt: An Egyptian court has postponed a decision on the fate of the assembly tasked with writing the country's new constitution, pushing back the decision until next week amid an increasingly strident debate over the charter.

A High Administrative Court official says the panel of judges will issue its ruling on 23 October on a number of legal challenges to the make-up of the 100-member constitutional assembly, which is dominated by Islamists.

Comment: The issue is whether the 100 member assembly charged with writing a new constitution is representative of the Egyptian population, especially ethnic and religious minorities. The assembly comprises primarily Islamic fundamentalists, according to prior judicial rulings.

Reports about the new draft constitution indicate a strong bias in favor of Islamic fundamentalism and that it omits key sections about the importance of Sharia (Islamic law) on Egyptian law and the role of the armed forces in government.

The government has provided no guidance as to how the blank critical sections will be written; who will write them plus whether they also will be submitted to a public vote. These questions become moot in the event the Court determines, once again, that the constituent assembly's composition violates Egypt's existing constitution.

End of NightWatch for 16 October.

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