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NightWatch 20130605

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NightWatch

For the night of 5 June 2013

North Korea: North Korea proposed on Thursday, 6 June, to hold talks with South Korea on reopening the Kaesong Industrial Zone (KIZ) just north of the Demilitarized Zone and on restoring almost all civilian connections with South Korea that it severed in March and April.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) published a statement containing the terms of the North's proposal for talks. Reproduced below are the operative portions of a much longer text.

"In view of the prevailing situation, the desire of all fellow countrymen and the ardent request of South Korean businessmen and other people, the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea clarifies the following crucial stand upon the authorization:

1. We propose holding talks between authorities of the north and the south for the normalization of the operation in the KIZ and the resumption of tours of Mt. Kumgang on the occasion of the anniversary of the June 15 joint declaration.

Such humanitarian issues as the reunion of separated families and their relatives can be discussed at the talks, if necessary.

The venue of the talks and the date for their opening can be set to the convenience of the south side.

2. We propose promptly realizing visits to the KIZ and the Special Zone for International Tours of Mt. Kumgang by South Korean businessmen and working contacts and promoting visits, contacts and cooperation among NGOs of the north and the south.

We have already approved the visits to the KIZ by businessmen and will allow the visits to the areas of the north side by South Korean businessmen concerned with the tours of Mt. Kumgang.

We also flung open the door to visits, contacts and cooperation among NGOs of South Korea.

3. We propose realizing joint national events to mark the 13th anniversary of th15 June joint declaration and jointly commemorating the 41st anniversary of the 4 July joint statement in the presence of the authorities of both sides.

The commemoration of the 15 June joint declaration and the 4 July joint statement in the presence of the authorities together with NGOs of both sides will be significant and contribute to improving the north-south ties.

4. As soon as the South Korean authorities respond to our proposal with a view to ensuring talks between the authorities of the north and the south, visits to the KIZ and Mt. Kumgang by South Korean businessmen and joint national events and smoothly settling pending issues between the north and the south, all the relevant measures concerning communications and liaison will be taken including the issue of reopening the Panmunjom Red Cross liaison channel.

Consistent is our stand to promote national reconciliation and unity and achieve reunification, peace and prosperity."

South Korea's reply. South Korea's Unification Ministry said in a text message that it "positively accepts" the North's announcement and will announce the date and agenda of talks later.

Comment: The KCNA statement represents a comprehensive switch in tactics to a charm offensive. The proposal contains no military-related measures, such as restoration of the armistice or nuclear talks, but otherwise covers a restoration of most, if not all, other communications, connections and areas of cooperation with South Korea.

The primary stated reason for the proposal is to alleviate the stress of the South Korean businessmen. The statement is crafted to make this proposal appear as a normal expression of North Korea's consistent policy toward South Korea. North Korea does not consider this proposal to represent a policy change. But it is and it is enormous.

Some of the projects mentioned are highly controversial. Tours to the South Korean-built attraction and resort at Mount Kumgang (Diamond Mountain) began in 1998.  By 2004, up to 240,000 South Koreans visisted annually. Mount Kumgang is located about 50 kms north of the Demilitarized Zone on the east coast. It is revered by all Koreans.

South Korean authorities suspended the tours in 2008 after a North Korean guard shot and killed a strayed South Korean tourist. In 2010 North Korea seized the facilities without compensation and invited foreign firms to bid on managing the facility after South Korea rejected repeated demands to resume the tours. It has been idle since 2008 and no doubt has deteriorated.

The proposal is the latest high point in the policy reversal trend that began in May and has been gathering momentum since the Japanese envoy visited Pyongyang and Vice Marshal Choe visited China. The North needs the cash. More importantly it needs the backing of China. This initiative will go far to reassure the Chinese leadership that the North will comply with their demand for stability in Northeast Asia.

An overture to the US and additional exchanges with Japan are almost certain to follow.

The Army. On 4 June, Kim Jong Un, as First Secretary of the Party and Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army, issued a "letter of appeal" to the armed forces to assist in building a "world-class" ski resort as a matter of highest national priority this year. The appeal is explicit in stressing that the army is supporting the party.

The letter of appeal was published in the Party daily, Rodong Sinmun.

Comment: The spring planting is finished and the Army needs to be kept busy. Use of a public letter of appeal to the armed forces is unusual, but not the use of thousands of soldiers on construction projects. All the Kims used the military as a manpower and resource reserve to ensure rapid progress in many high priority building projects, including industrial plants, residential housing, waterways and recreational facilities.

Pakistan: Pakistan's National Assembly on Wednesday formally elected Nawaz Sharif as prime minister. Sharif, 63, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, was elected by an overwhelming majority. He received 244 of the 317 votes cast by assembly members. Many parties voted en bloc for Nawaz Sharif to curry favor with the new government.

President Zardari administered the oath of office at President House.

Prime Minister Sharif delivered a brief speech on the floor of the National Assembly after his election. He said, "The chapter of drone attacks on the country's soil should now be closed. As we respect others' sovereignty, ours should also be given respect. This campaign must come to an end."

He also addressed Pakistan's many problems. In Churchillian fashion, he said he would not make attractive promises to the masses nor talk about any imaginary heaven on earth. He openly sided with the productive forces of the country agriculture, industry and exports, as the keys for economic revival. He said he would tolerate no corruption and nepotism and that the doors of dictatorship had been closed forever.

The only foreign country mentioned was China. The Prime Minister said he would form a study group to work on establishing a rail link to western China from Karachi and the Arabian Sea port of Gwadar via the Khunjerab Pass in the north. He plans to give free port status to the Chinese built and now managed new port of Gwadar in western Pakistan.

Comment: Pakistan has the weapons to shoot down drones, but has declined to use them, apparently to avoid jeopardizing US military aid each year. The Pakistan Army has received $25-26 billion in US military aid since 2001.

Nawaz Sharif is likely to reopen the bidding in this deal. For starters, he has committed his government to friendlier ties with India which he sees as a market for Pakistani exports that will jump-start the economic revival, as he calls it. Peace with India reduces the urgency of constant injections of US military aid for the Army.

Secondly, he remains determined to open talks with the Pakistani Taliban, which would remove the requirement to use the Army in support of civil authority in the tribal agencies. If he makes progress the Army can go back to barracks.

Finally, he clearly has tilted to China, which has been the primary source of military equipment from nuclear weapons designs to delivery systems, combat aircraft and naval ships for the Pakistani armed forces for more than half a century, without interruption. With Chinese help and reduced operational commitments the Army has a potential opportunity to restore its capabilities.

Nawaz Sharif's comments during the election campaign and today show that he judges there is little to build on since he was overthrown by Musharraf in 1999. The slate is clean and he has a clear mandate from the electorate for doing new things.

Turkey: Deputy Prime Minister Arinc met with members of the Taksim Platform, a self-appointed group of environmentalists, academics and architects that helped start recent protests over the development plans for Taksim Square in Istanbul. The group presented demands that included the dismissal of government officials and police chiefs responsible for the crackdown last Friday, banning use of tear gas, and changes to the plan to develop the Square.

After the meeting, some protestors shouted that meetings and apologies were not enough.

Several thousand union members paraded in Istanbul and joined the protestors at Gezi Park in Taksim Square. Their leaders called for freedom and justice.

Comment: Even with the best of intentions, the government would need time to address the demands. The new insight from today's meeting is that the protestors are disorganized and only threaten local law and order in Istanbul.

In addition a pattern has emerged. The protestors are quiet during the day but stage disorders in the evening when people join them after work. That is when the clashes with police have taken place this week. By midnight it is all over, according to one participant.

The unions and other groups in other cities are a different matter. Police in Izmir arrested three people who are accused of plotting to set off explosive devices during Turkish anti-government demonstrations. Police confiscated eight explosive devices and bomb making material.

Yesterday, 4 June, police arrested an Iranian suspected of working for Iranian intelligence. Iran denied involvement. Another report said local Turkish communists were inciting people to riot. A third report said some Kurdish hotheads took advantage of unrest to attack a border checkpoint.

Comment: In less than two weeks, Turkey has come under severe internal stress. The agents of stress are inchoate and fractious, otherwise it should be considered unstable. Most of the hostility is directed against Erdogan in person, evidenced by the protest slogan that "he must resign." His ambitions are large and his style is abrasive, but the slow erosion of liberal western ideas of secular government is the work of the ruling party, not just Erdogan.

Syria: Syrian government forces and Hizballah fighters took control of the town of Qusayr early on Wednesday. Military officers appeared on television to announce the victory. State media broadcast pictures of government forces raising flags over wrecked buildings.

Rebel groups released a statement early on Wednesday announcing that they had pulled out Qusayr in the early hours. Rebel fighters are believed to have taken refuge in hamlets near Syria's third city, Homs, around 20 miles to the north.

Comment: This is the first clear victory for the government in at least a year. The next target for this group of forces is Homs, the last rebel stronghold of sorts in western Syria. Government operations against Aleppo have not begun yet.

Egypt: The state prosecutor on Wednesday referred 12 activists and bloggers to trial on charges of instigating violence during a demonstration at the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group from which the president hails, according to the state-run news agency. The defendants, including several activists who are among the youth movement that led 2011 revolution, are among a number of critics of President Mursi who have been investigated or charged in recent months.

On Tuesday a court sentenced 43 people, including 16 Americans, to up to five years in prison for illegally using foreign funds to incite unrest while working for non-governmental organizations. The court ordered the government to shut down the non-profit organizations where the activists worked and to seize their assets.

All Americans but one were tried in absentia.

Comment: The demonstration at the headquarters of the Brotherhood is known as the Battle of the Mountain. The secularists protested Brotherhood influence in government and Mursi ordered a Mubarak-style police crackdown. The referral to trial is a use of the rule of law to punish Mursi's critics. No policemen were referred to trial.

As for the 43, their conviction stems from protests a year ago. The Mursi government harbors suspicions of foreign-backed non-profit organizations that match those of Mubarak's government. The convictions are based on a Mubarak-era law.

Mali: The Malian military clashed on Wednesday with fighters from the ethnic Touareg National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, or NMLA, near the village of Anefis, 113 kilometers (70 miles) south of the rebels' base in the provincial capital of Kidal, local officials said.

Comment: This is the first time the Malian army has fought the NMLA since the Touareg fighters attempted to secede last year. The Malian army's defeat by the Touaregs set in motion the military coup and the incursion by jihadists.

End of NightWatch for 5 June.

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