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NightWatch 20140214

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For the night of 14 February 2014

South Korea-North Korea: During the second session of talks at Panmunjom this week, negotiators from the two Koreas today agreed to hold family reunions later this month, despite annual Allied military training.

The three-point agreement stipulates the reunions may proceed; the two states will halt mutual slander and agree to continue the senior-level dialogue on ways to improve inter-Korean relations.

No date has been announced for future talks.

Comment: This is tonight's good news because it is the strongest evidence to date that North Korea's charm offensive has more substance than past initiatives of this kind. The key point to bear in mind is that the North is not indulging in altruism or magnanimity. The carrot and stick tactics came together in favor of the family reunions.

Cooperation with the South is always the result of careful calculations about what tactics serve North Korea's strategic interests at any point in time. For example, the timing of the agreement does not appear serendipitous. The US Secretary of State in Beijing announced China's willingness, he said, to renew efforts to denuclearize North Korea. For Koreans, the image of Secretary Kerry talking about North Korea with President Xi in China is more than offset by the image of Korean negotiators shaking hands at Panmunjom over family reunions.

As for China and North Korea, when North Korea executed Kim's Uncle Chang, China lost its most effective advocate in Pyongyang in decades. North Korean media seldom mention China now. In its consideration of tactical moves, triangulation between China and South Korea is always important. When relations with China deteriorate -- as is the case at present -- North Korea warms up to South Korea or sometimes the US. It is a tough neighborhood. No tactical moves resulting from triangulation last long.

Russia-Egypt: Update. A Russian newspaper reported today that Russia and Egypt have almost finalized a $3 billion arms deal that will be financed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Central African Republic: France announced Friday it would send 400 more troops to join its 1,600 soldiers in the Central African Republic. In a statement after a meeting of a top defense committee, President Francois Hollande also called on the European Union to speed up the deployment of an estimated 500 troops under the EUFOR mission.

Comment: French intentions to stop violence and stabilize a country seem noble, but it is overextended in the Central African Republic. Now France is reinforcing what looks like an operational failure.

End of NightWatch for 14 February.

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