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NightWatch 20130503

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For the night of 3 May 2013

North Korea-South Korea: The last seven South Koreans at Kaesong have returned to South Korea.

The Ministry of Unification said that the South Korean businessmen and North Korean government representatives reached an understanding on the payment of outstanding wages, the amount of taxes that South Korean companies owed Pyongyang and various service charges.

The Ministry spokesman said a total of US$13 million was paid to settle North Korean claims. South Korea sent two vehicles carrying cash to Kaesong as part of the agreement and they returned after the negotiating team.

The Ministry spokesman said the South Koreans asked the North to reopen both military and Red Cross hot lines that were cut earlier in the year to carry out further talks about Kaesong issues but the North did not reply.

Comment: There are three important issues that the negotiators did not settle.

First is the return of finished goods and manufacturing materials that remain at Kaesong, but are ready to be shipped. The South Korean businessmen hoped the North would permit these goods and materials to be removed so that the businesses could offset some of their losses. North Korea refused.

Second, the North is obligated under contracts to protect and respect the property of the South Korean companies. North Korea has made no arrangements to prevent copper wire and valuable equipment from being stripped from the plants by scavengers. This is common in North Korea and the metals are sold in China. The North did not discuss who would pay for deterioration caused by the idleness of the plants.

Finally, South Korea has not decided whether to cut off the electricity and discontinue the water supply to the complex.

South Korea apparently intends to use the outstanding issues plus an unsettled claim for $1.2 million as a basis for maintaining some contact with North Korea. The North's responses at Kaesong do not necessarily signify official refusals, but rather that the local officials had no authorization from Pyongyang to discuss anything except money issues.

Israel-Syria-Hezbollah: US news media citing unidentified US officials reported that the Israeli Air Force executed a ground attack at a weapons warehouse in Syria. Israeli officials declined to comment but Lebanese press reported low flying Israeli combat aircraft flew over Nabatiye Governate in south Lebanon on Friday morning.

Comment: The description of the attack resembles the Israeli air operation in January which prevented Syria from providing advanced weapons to Hezbollah. The timing, days after Hezbollah announced it was fighting in support of the Syrian government, suggests the action was related to that announcement.

What was missing from the Hezbollah announcement this week is what price Hezbollah required from Syria for its overt support. Supplies of modern weapons or delivery systems from Syria might have been an incentive for an open statement of support.

What is certain is that Israel would act promptly to try to prevent any strengthening of Hezbollah by Syria, but has shown no interest in siding with the belligerents in Syria.

Tunisia: "We have overcome the impasse, we are heading towards a mixed regime where neither the head of state nor the head of the government will have supreme control over the executive power," Rached Ghannouchi told Tunisian radio. Ghannouchi is a co-founder of the Ennahda Movement, the largest political party in Tunisia.

According to a report on Naharnet, Ghannouchi did not go into details about the division of power between the chief of state and the chief of government, but said only that the president and the prime minister would each have their own prerogatives.

Comment: Although Tunisians ousted strong man Ben Ali in January 2011 and held Constituent Assembly elections in October 2011, the assembly has been deadlocked in drafting a new constitution over disagreements about the distribution of power between the president and parliament..

Ennahda, a so-called moderate Islamist party, leads the coalition government because it won the largest share of seats in the national assembly in the October 2011 elections. As a result it has demanded a strictly parliamentary government.

Most other political parties, including Ennahda's allies in the coalition, want key prerogatives to remain in the hands of the presidency, which is currently held by Moncef Marzouki who is a member of the secular, center-left Congress for the Republic.

The details will be important  as written in the final draft of the constitution, but Tunisian leaders have shown political maturity in reaching a compromise. Nevertheless, the overriding issues remain unemployment, political instability and violence, and economic reform. Thus far the Ennahda-led coalition has made scant progress on these issues which drove the overthrow of Ben Ali two years ago.

End of NightWatch for 3 May.

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