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NightWatch 20131002

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NightWatch

For the night of 2 October 2013

North Korea: The US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins reported today that commercial satellite imagery from 19 September shows hot water being released into the river next to the Yongbyon reactor, as part of its secondary cooling system. The institute judges that the release of hot water indicates the reactor is in operation and that the turbines are generating electrical power.

Comment: In the multiple crises involving the status of the Yongbyon reactor in the past, one of the most reliable indicators that the reactor was operating was the steam cloud from the pipe emptying into to the river. As noted in last night's NightWatch edition, the North's dual development strategy means that active economic projects are a tipoff that nuclear projects are also active.

Pakistan: The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government has established formal contacts with the Taliban leadership through ulema (the body of Muslim legal scholars) from Wafaq-ul-Madaris and those commanding respect in various Taliban factions operating in the country's restive tribal areas. (Note: Wafaq ul Madaris Al Arabia is the largest federation of Islamic schools in Pakistan.)

Sources in the government confirmed having started the process of contact with the Taliban, while modus operandi of the dialogue would shape up in the coming days.

A delegation of ulema belonging to Wafaq-ul-Madaris had a detailed meeting with Federal Interior Minister Chaudry Nisar Ali Khan and stakeholders on Tuesday and discussed the framework for holding peace talks. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who returned from New York Tuesday night, received a detailed briefing from the interior minister on the meeting with the ulema.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, known as the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan [TTP], said the Taliban welcomed the ulema's appeal for a ceasefire. Shahidullah Shahid, the spokesman, said "if the government takes the lead and announces a ceasefire then we will ceasefire as well."

He warned, however, that if the government took any action against the Taliban during the talks they reserved the right to defend themselves. He said the government should show its authority and get the drone strikes stopped before the talks because the whole process would become meaningless if the talks and drone strikes go on simultaneously.

Comment: If the TTP fighting groups respect the statement of the spokesman, this could be the breakthrough that Prime Minister Sharif promised during the election campaign, but has eluded him since. Through the summer, government offers of talks have been met by Taliban acts of violence and bombings.

Iran: State-run radio on 2 October reported remarks by President Hasan Ruhani in which he stressed that the issue of nuclear technology and enrichment inside Iran is non-negotiable.

Speaking to journalists after a cabinet meeting, Ruhani told his countrymen that there will be no talks about the issue of nuclear technology and enrichment inside Iran. As far as details are concerned, "we have to sit and discuss them."

He said that Iran has opened the doors of its nuclear sites to the International Atomic Energy Agency and it can monitor them. He said that the government's main discourse in foreign policy is cooperation with the rest of the world.

"Since the very beginning, effective cooperation with the world has been one of the programs that are important to the government," Ruhani said in remarks aired by the radio.

"Over the past 45 days, the government has taken forward-looking steps in three stages." He noted that these stages include the presence of foreign delegations at his inauguration ceremony, his recent visit to Bishkek to attend the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and his recent visit to New York to attend the 68th session of the UN General Assembly.

Comment: Ruhani's statement reiterates the Iranian policy on enrichment since the 1980's. Morevoer, this has been Ruhani's personal position since 2004, when he was in charge of nuclear negotiations. A hallmark of his style was to offer confidence building measures through temporary suspensions of some processes, but without committing to a permanent suspension of the nuclear program.

The US, European Union (EU) and UN position has been that Iran must suspend its enrichment program permanently. A change in this policy, however, has been emerging since the Group of 20 summit in Saint Petersburg on 5 and 6 September, where Western officials conveyed optimism about negotiating with President Ruhani.

Euronews reported on 2 October that Western governments are considering allowing Iran to continue some uranium enrichment, as part of a possible deal, according to a diplomat from the European Union. Iran wants a deal within six months.

The change in position reportedly is a reaction to President Ruhani's charm offensive. In addition to allowing some uranium enrichment, it would also mean that the West agrees to lift sanctions.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, the current President of the EU, said: "I believe part of the game is that if the Iranians prove that whatever they are doing is peaceful, it will, as I understand, be possible for them to conduct it."

"It's conditional. It is not a done deal, but nevertheless it is a possibility to explore," he said. "Thanks to this rapprochement. How it will look, we don't know."

Comment: Multiple UN resolutions require Iran to halt enrichment, including "full and sustained suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities."

This emerging change in the Western position is part of the backdrop for the US President's statement after talking with Ruhani on 27 September.

"I do believe that there is a basis for resolution. Iran's supreme leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons. President Rohani has indicated that Iran will never develop nuclear weapons. I've made clear that we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy in the context of Iran meeting its obligations."

Ruhani is touting his foreign policy success for the benefit of skeptics in his own elite, especially the Iranian Revolution Guards Corps, as Supreme Leader Khamenei refers to them. He won approval from parliament this week, but much depends on whether he can get sanctions lifted. He may be counted on to offer confidence building measures, as he did before, to prove "that whatever they are doing is peaceful," as Linkevicius said.

If the West is changing its position on enrichment, sanctions should be lifted. Regardless of what the West does, Ruhani's statement to the cabinet indicates that Iran's position on nuclear enrichment and technology will remain unchanged.

The blowback by Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states from a Western policy change would be serious. It could include proliferation or acceleration of nuclear programs in several Arab states. It also could affect the Six Party Talks about the North Korean nuclear program.

End of NightWatch for 2 October.

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