For the night of 18 June 2013
North Korea-US: A pro-North Korean news outlet in Japan published a lengthy signed article urging the US to accept the North's talks proposal. The article contained a tutorial on North Korean understanding of terms, implying the US might not have appreciated their significance. For example,
"The press statement this time expressed the important position "under authorization," as was the case with the 6 June special statement by the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Fatherland (CPRF) that proposed talks between authorities of the North and the South. This is not an expression ordinarily made at an administrative working level. "Authorization" bears special meaning in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)."
Then the article purported to tutor the US about how North Korea was at the center of all recent high level discussions. That is the North Korean world view.
"In May this year a special envoy wearing military uniform was dispatched to China to convey the DPRK supreme leader's (Kim Jong Un) intention. The China-US summit held in June discussed the DPRK issue as an important agenda item. At a time when the peak of the crisis of nuclear war has been passed off hardly (note: poor translation. The apparent meaning is, ' has barely ended'), direct and indirect summit-level dialogues have been held among the three parties of the DPRK, China, and the United States that signed the Korean Armistice Agreement six decades ago, and a proposal has been put forth for high-level DPRK-US talks. An opportunity can be provided for vital negotiations toward peace in the course of fine-tuning each country's interests."
"The first US response to the NDC spokesperson's important press statement was not from the US Department of State but from the White House National Security Council (NSC). Last year when the presidential election was held in the United States, the Obama administration secretly dispatched NSC policymakers to Pyongyang and exchanged opinions with the DPRK side."
The article concludes with a threat.
"The crisis that occurred in March would repeat itself, should the Obama administration avoid dialogue and miss out on the opportunity for negotiations to remove the structure of confrontation from the Korean peninsula. The days are gone when the United States was giving lectures to tell the DPRK to do this or that, while unilaterally committing military coercion."
Comment: Although the article is not an official North Korean government statement, it almost certainly was published with approval by the North Korean central committee secretariat for propaganda. It is a plea for a response that culminates in a threat.
Kim Jong Un's advisers seem uneasy that the US has not jumped at their leader's offer of talks. Their statements indicate they consider North Korea the geo-strategic equal of China and the United States because all signed the Armistice Agreement.
They most likely would prefer a positive US response before South Korean President Park makes her state visit to China next week. But there is no reason to rush.
They fail to appreciate that rest of the world knows that they threatened a nuclear war and then were forced to back down because they could not maintain a nation-wide combat alert. The populace has little capacity for more deprivation in another phony crisis. They offer nothing new in talks.
Pakistan: A suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of hundreds of mourners attending a funeral near the town of Mardan in northwestern Pakistan on Tuesday, killing 29 people and injuring at least 57 people. Among the dead is a newly elected lawmaker who may have been the target, authorities said.
Comment: Pakistani analysts said the blast was the deadliest attack in the region since the 11 May national and regional elections installed a new government in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The attack represents a test of fire for the new provincial government whose party campaigned on a promise to end the attacks through negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban. Anti-government militants are not inclined to talk.
Afghanistan-Qatar: The Afghan Taliban have received quasi-diplomatic recognition again, for the first time in a dozen years. Today they opened a political office in Doha, Qatar, issuing an official statement, which follows.
"Statement concerning the opening of the political office of the Islamic Emirate in Qatar."
"It is well known to all that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has been waging jihad to put an end to the occupation and form an independent Islamic system. To reach this goal it has utilized every lawful means."
"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan simultaneously follows military and political actions and aims which are limited to Afghanistan. The Islamic Emirate never wants to pose harms to other countries from its soil, nor will it allow anyone to cause a threat to the security of countries from the soil of Afghanistan."
"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan wants good relations with all the countries of the world including the neighboring countries, on the basis of mutual respect and while desiring security at the country level, the Islamic Emirate wants security and justice at the world level."
"Of course the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan considerers it its religious and national duty to gain independence from the occupation and for that purpose has utilized every legitimate way and will utilize it in future too."
"Similarly at world level, it considers the struggles and efforts by the miserable and oppressed nations for achievement of their legitimate rights and independence as their due rights, because people have the right to liberate their countries from colonialism and obtain their rights."
"In order to elucidate this policy the Islamic Emirate has deemed it essential to open the political office in the Islamic country of Qatar, for the attainment of the following objectives:
One: to reach understanding and initiate talks with countries of the world for the purpose of improving relations with them.
Two: to support a political and peaceful solution which includes the end of the occupation of Afghanistan and the establishment of an independent Islamic system and true security which is the want and aspiration of the nation.
Three: to hold meetings with Afghans as times may demand.
Four: to initiate contact with the United Nations as well as with the international, regional and non-governmental organizations.
Five: to put political statements at the disposal of media regarding current political developments.
US response. News outlets reported that representatives of the Taliban will meet Afghan and US officials in Doha, Qatar, to discuss an agenda for what US officials called "peace and reconciliation" before further talks take place with Afghan government representatives soon after.
Senior US administration officials said they believed the Taliban had agreed to issue a statement committing them to "oppose the use of Afghan soil to threaten other countries" - an important first step to severing ties with al-Qaida.
Comment: The Taliban office in Qatar has the approval of Mullah Omar, as does the initiation of talks. The five points in the statements betray no sense of compromise in the long term agenda. They appear to have dropped their longstanding condition that all foreign troops must withdraw from Afghanistan first before talks could begin.
A problem in understanding what actually transpired is positive press spin on the development. Talks will be long and the Taliban are wily. Preliminary talks about talks could go on until all combat forces are gone.
They also have not explicitly said they would not work with al Qaida nor have they promised they would not support movements outside Afghanistan. The points in today's statement imply otherwise, as does the establishment of an office in Doha.
Point Two in the statement indicates that the Taliban have no intention of supporting elected government in Afghanistan. It suggests talks are an expedient to speed up the departure of Western forces and the installation of an Islamic system of government.
News reports described the lengthy arrangements involving Pakistan, the US, Egypt and others that nurtured the prospective talks with the Taliban, not just Qatar. If talks actually start, the process might provide a window of reduced attacks for an orderly withdrawal of Western forces, instead of a withdrawal under fire. That is probably as substantive as the talks will get and even that is wishful thinking.
The Afghans provided no window for the Soviet withdrawal and have promised none for the NATO withdrawal. It also is not clear that Omar and the other anti-government leaders can control their fighters sufficiently to keep any promises of restraint.
Qatar's role as the sponsor and host of the Taliban political office is potentially ominous because Qatar is pursuing an independent policy of supporting jihadists wherever they are fighting. For example, Qatar supported the al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb attack into Mali and is primary backer of the al Nusrah Front in Syria.
Qatari support for the Taliban after 2014 would mean it backs installation of the Taliban's idea of an Islamic system in Kabul.
For the record. When the Taliban sent a delegation to Iran on 3 June, they described it as a "meeting between governments." Iran and Afghanistan confirmed that the delegation went, as the Taliban claimed. No details of the talks were published.
The significance is that there are now two instances this month in which the Taliban have behaved as if they were the rightful government of Afghanistan. With Qatari backing, their willingness to hold talks does not signify weakness, but a gesture of magnanimity to their enemy, as they view Afghan history.
Turkey: Justice and Development Party (AKP) Chairman and Prime Minister Erdogan at his party's parliamentary group meeting commented on the Taksim Square/Gezi Park events. Excerpts follow.
He said, "This game is now over. First the people, and then AKP which is the government of the people, the party of the people, spoiled this game."
"Everything was prepared in a professional way (referring to the demonstrations). Some international circles are part of this scheme."
"Our police have fought sensibly during the intervention."
"Could the people who are constantly asking us whether we took the message of the people gathered in Taksim Square, take the message of hundreds of thousands of people in Sincan, and more than a million in Kazlicesme?"
"From now on, there is no case for showing tolerance to any person or organization that uses violence or adopts violence as a means. According to initial estimates, the cost of all these events to the state has already exceeded 100 trillion lira."
He also said he would empower the police more. "From now on and within the authority given to it by law, our police will no longer overlook any unlawfulness and continue to do what is necessary. We will empower our police even further. We will empower it even further in all respects. This way we will increase its power to intervene much more in the face of all these events."
Comment: Erdogan seems frustrated that hard core protestors refuse to conform to Turkish democracy. He is convinced that outsiders have planned, organized and executed the demonstrations to embarrass Turkey. He will arrest them all if necessary. The crackdown will continue.
Syria: Update. Activists reported fighting in Aleppo and in the outskirts. Most shelling occurred in towns on key roads west and northwest of Aleppo. Combat aircraft attacked targets in the villages of Atarab in the west and Far Harm, which is east of Aleppo. Government troops clashed with rebels inside Aleppo, but the neighborhood was not disclosed nor was the size of the engagement. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Fighting also has occurred in neighborhoods of Damascus and at Homs which is north of Damascus about midway to Aleppo. Rebels claim Syrian air force jets dropped fuel-air explosive bombs in multiple locations. These bombs kill people but often leave buildings standing.
Lebanon: Update. Lebanon's main Sunni Muslim political party pleaded with the presidency on Tuesday to prevent "state collapse", blaming the Shi'ite Hizballah group for dragging the country into the war in Syria.
"Hizballah is serving Syria and Iran at the expense of the Lebanese," ex-Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told reporters. He said President Michel Suleiman should launch an initiative "to stop the state's collapse and give the Lebanese hope".
Siniora, head of the Future Movement that is part of the "March 14" coalition opposed to Syrian influence in Lebanon, said March 14 had sent a memorandum to Suleiman calling for the deployment of the army on the northern border with Syria, and suggesting a role for United Nations peacekeepers there.
Sidon, South Lebanon. Followers of an extremist Sunni cleric clashed with Shiites in an eastern suburb of the southern port city of Sidon on the 18th, resulting in one person killed. A Lebanese Army battalion backed by armor intervened to contain the violence. The Army claimed the three hour firefight was the result of a traffic accident. This is the first reported clash of this kind in Sidon since Hizballah joined the fight in Syria.
UN-Golan Heights (UN Disengagement Observer Force): Some 170 troops from Fiji will join the United Nations peacekeeping force on the Golan Heights in the wake of the withdrawal of Austrian troops.
The new peacekeepers will arrive in the region at the end of the month, the United Nations announced Monday. The 380 Austrian troops left the region last week after fighting between Syrian government and rebel forces resulted in Austrian casualties.
Comment: Fiji has three regiments (battalions) of infantry. Two almost always are committed to UN peacekeeping as a means of earning hard currency and equipping the army.
Mali: Update. The government signed an accord Tuesday with Touareg separatists to permit the Malian army to return to areas under Touareg control. It calls for an immediate ceasefire. Other terms and inducements were not reported.
Comment: The agreement was reached in negotiations in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. West African security issues are complex and nearly intractable in the best of times. They become impossible when Gulf States meddle in them. For now, one of Mali's security problems has been papered over without more clashes.
End of NightWatch for 18 June.
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