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NightWatch 20141016

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NightWatch

For the night of 16 October 2014

North Korea-South Korea: The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) published a detailed version of the events that led to the 15 October senior-level military talks at Panmunjom which ended without progress.

According to KCNA, the purpose of the meeting was to establish an emergency contact to defuse the 7 October shooting incident in the waters off the west coast along the Northern Limit Line. The North blamed South Korea for rejecting repeated North Korean overtures to hold emergency talks to prevent escalation of the incident.

The North threatened full disclosure of South Korea's rejection of the North's outreach and conflict avoidance proposals, if the South Korean government persisted in refusing contact. The South persisted and the North carried out its threat.

Comment: The KCNA article confirms that the 15 October meeting at Panmunjom was about a specific event. It was held to prevent the 7 October incident from spoiling the positive atmosphere for high level talks that was set on 4 October at the Asian Games in Inchon.

Evidently, the South Korean government treated the shooting incident as a fairly routine event that did not justify an emergency contact or agreement on the four confidence building measures the North tried to persuade the South to accept.

The KCNA article betrays disappointment and judged the security talks made no progress. However, it merely blamed the South for passing up an opportunity, instead of threatening violent retaliation, which has been the practice through most of 2014. North Korea also did not mention cancellation of future talks.

Invitation for Feedback: The North Korean security and propaganda agencies have a well-established reputation and a record of using body-doubles for leaders. For example, when Kim Il-sung was alive, some of his body doubles looked identical to him, except for the trace of his receding hair line and a few other small features. He was reputed to have more than a dozen body-doubles who were used to make the public believe he was a larger-than-life figure keeping a constantly heavy schedule of on-the-spot guidance and other public appearances for the benefit of the people.

The North Korean story line is that Kim Jong Un gained a lot of weight and hurt his ankle, which is what the images showed. They also showed a distinctively different haircut, puffy facial features and a much rounder shape of the head.

The question for Feedback is, did North Korea substitute a body-double for Kim Jong Un?

Russia-US-Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL): The Russian Foreign Ministry clarified an apparent misunderstanding about intelligence cooperation that the US Secretary of State declared on Tuesday. Russia denied that it agreed to share intelligence on ISIL.

On Tuesday, after talks in Paris, the US Secretary of State said, "In our discussions today, I suggested to Foreign Minister Lavrov that we intensify intelligence cooperation in respect ISIL and other counter-terrorism issues of the region and we agreed to do so. We also agreed to explore whether Russia could do more to support Iraqi security forces and the Foreign Minister indeed acknowledged their preparedness to help with respect to arms, weapons…they are doing that now and they already have provided some, and with also potentially training and advising aspects (sic).".

On Wednesday, the US Secretary of State stressed the importance of cooperation with Russia on a wide range of issues, including counter-terrorism, saying that "we have major responsibilities together."

On Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement. "In connection with reports that have appeared in the mass media that on 14 October in Paris S.V. Lavrov and J. Kerry allegedly reached an agreement on exchange of intelligence reports in the fight against terrorism and on Russia's participation in training and advising Iraqi security forces, it is necessary to clarify the following."

"These issues were raised by the US Secretary of State. S.V. Lavrov, in turn, stressed that Russia has long and consistently been fighting terrorism and providing assistance to other countries in the face of the terrorist threat, including by providing significant assistance to Syria, Iraq and other countries in the region to strengthen their military capability. Russia will continue these efforts but will not be involved in some "coalitions" created by bypassing the UN Security Council and in violation of international law."

"J. Kerry's attention was also drawn to the fact that the anti-terror group, which operated within the framework of the Russian-American Presidential Commission, carried out, inter alia, a mutually beneficial exchange of information. However, the activities of the Presidential Commission and all its mechanisms, including the anti-terror group, were unilaterally terminated by the American side."

Comment: Russia has not agreed to intelligence sharing on ISIL and blames the US. After the stress in relations over Ukraine, Russian leaders have no intention of being seen to be following a US lead. Thus their statements stress the actions Russia has taken and continues to take to fight terrorism, unilaterally.

Contributing to the tone of today's Foreign Ministry statement is Russia's negative reaction to a statement by the US Secretary of Defense at the annual conference of the US Army. The Russian Minister of Defense said he was seriously concerned that the US Secretary of Defense said the US Army must be prepared for dealing with the Russian armed forces, which he described as a US military adversary.

Syria: Syrian Kurdish sources claimed that the Kurds with US air support have driven ISIL forces from Kobani. They claim that ISIL is only holding a few neighborhoods. The US defense spokesman said the situation is fluid, but confirmed a significant increase in air attacks against ISIL forces in and near Kobani in the past two days.

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An al Jazeera article reported that the so-called heroes of the fighting are not the Kurdish peshmera militia, but the hardened fighters of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which the US and NATO have identified as a terrorist organization. The US State Department today confirmed it held a weekend meeting with Syrian Kurdish envoys affiliated with the PKK.

Comment: The ironies of the fight for Kobani continue to mount in that the US air operations are supporting an organization that the US has designated a terrorist organization. That is the only group capable of standing up to ISIL's fighters. US contact with affiliates of the PKK almost guarantees that Turkey will provide little help in the fight against ISIL.

As for ISIL, the fight for Kobani has not ended because it must take Kobani to secure its northern border.

Ukraine: Update. President Poroshenko signed into law the special order of local government in certain districts of Luhansk and Donetsk regions. This includes local government and the formation of people's militias to provide law and order.

Comment: The law is effective the date the President signed it.

End of NightWatch for 16 October.

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