For the night of 19 March 2014
North Korea: For the record. According to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), "the 1st Session of the 13th Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) will be convened in Pyongyang on 9 April, Juche 103 (2014), according to a decree of the Presidium of the SPA on Wednesday."
Comment: As mentioned previously, the SPA is North Korea's legislature, but it convenes usually only twice yearly. Its primary role is to give government approval to laws, appointments and decisions made the Party. The new laws and appointments that the SPA approves sometimes help clarify the direction or emphasis of North Korean policy. In the aftermath of the execution of Kim's Uncle Chang last year, policy decisions have been more erratic and inconsistent than when he was alive.
China-North Korea: Today KCNA published that Wu Dawei, the Chinese Government's special envoy on Korean Peninsula affairs, and his party arrived in Pyongyang on 17 March. They were received at the airport by functionaries of the relevant sector and a counselor of the PRC Embassy in the DPRK.
Today the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman also mentioned Wu's visit for the first time. He told the press that Wu Dawei, the Chinese Government's special representative for Korean Peninsula affairs, visited the DPRK on 17 March and held consultations with the DPRK side. The main topics of the consultations were the situation on the Korean Peninsula and how to resume the Six-Party Talks, according to the spokesman.
Comment: The timing of the visit is significant. On 8 March, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced instability and war on the Korean Peninsula constituted a "red line" for China. Subsequently, North Korea began holding a variety of rocket and missile firings off the east coast.
Nine days later Wu arrived unannounced in Pyongyang. His visit was not acknowledged until after it was completed. The statements provided no insights about the content or atmosphere of what appears to have been a brief visit.
Cumulatively, the circumstantial evidence suggests the Chinese leadership sent Wu to instruct the North Koreans about the meaning of China's "red line" as well as to clarify the meaning of the rocket and missile firings, if any.
Syria-US: On Monday, the US suspended the operations of the Syrian embassy and its two honorary consulates. Diplomats have until the end of March to depart. Administrative staff members have until the end of April to close the embassy building. The US has not broken diplomatic relations.
The US special representative for Syria said the move was taken because Syria announced that the Syrian Embassy has suspended its provision of consular services and because of the atrocities the Syrian regime has committed against its people. He said, "…we have determined it is unacceptable for individuals appointed by that regime to conduct diplomatic or consular operations in the United States."
Comment: The US move is in retaliation for the Syrian move, which apparently retaliated for an earlier US action on diplomatic visa applications. Considering that the US did not break relations with Syria, this looks more symbolic than substantive, but it might be a step towards preparing for an opposition entity to appoint diplomatic representation for Syria at some point. If so, it is a distant dream. Meanwhile, the Syrian Embassy at the UN continues to operate.
Israel-Syria: In the past two days, Israeli air and artillery forces have attacked Syrian army posts. Tuesday's artillery attack retaliated for a roadside bomb detonation that wounded four Israeli soldiers on patrol on the Golan Heights. The air attacks were against Syrian bases on the Golan Heights that supposedly supported the bomb attack. One Syrian soldier was killed and seven were wounded.
The Syrians issued a statement: "We warn that these desperate attempts to escalate and exacerbate the situation in these circumstances by repeating these acts of aggression would endanger the security and stability of the region."
The Israelis also issued a statement. Israel announced it had carried out air raids overnight against several Syrian army positions that "aided and abetted" the attack against Israeli troops on Tuesday. "We see the Syrian army as responsible, and that is indicated by our response to the attack."
Comment: All the action stayed on the Golan Heights. It seems implausible that the Syrian army planted the roadside bomb, but after the Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket attacks, the Israelis are prickly.
Russia: On 18 March President Putin signed the treaty of reunification with Crimea along with the Crimean prime minister and parliament speaker. He gave a ten minute address in which he in which he defended Crimea's vote as a restoration of historical justice.
The government will submit the treaty to the parliament for ratification on 20 March.
Comment: In the speech Putin made clear that two separate political entities joined the Russian Federation: the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol. In the treaty Sevastopol will be directly controlled by Moscow. The ownership of the Black Sea Fleet's base will be Russian henceforth, instead of leased from Ukraine.
It bears repeating that the Russians were well prepared for this reunification. The speed of execution and smoothness of the military and political operations were such that the major actions were completed before the West could finish deliberations, much less make decisions. Those are the hallmarks of careful preparation.
Crimea: Pro-Russian armed men or Russian special forces soldiers or both took over the headquarters of the Ukrainian Navy in Sevastopol and another naval facility. One Ukrainian soldier was shot and killed.
Russia began issuing passports to Crimeans.
Ukraine: Ukrainian authorities reportedly cracked down on pro-Russian demonstrators in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine. The government in Kyiv is trying to arrange the withdrawal of some 22,000 Ukrainian soldiers and sailors from Crimea.
Correction: The agreement guaranteeing the territorial integrity of Ukraine is the Budapest Memorandum, not the Bucharest Memorandum. Senior moment.
End of NightWatch for 19 March.
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