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North Korea-South Korea-US:  Despite the tension between North and South Korea, North Korea accepted 180 tons of food aid for children from the Korea Peace Foundation. This is the first aid since before Kim Chong-il died.

On 2 February, the Korean Central News Agency broadcast a long statement by the North's National Defense Commission's Policy Department which included an "open questionnaire" for South Korea. The questions were posed as conditions for North-South talks which are impossible for South Korea to accept.

Comment: The nine-point questionnaire is difficult to take seriously. The senior-most officer supporting it was a Korean People's Army colonel in the Policy Department. That means it is an deliberate insult to South Korea or not meant to be taken seriously.

All of the nine points are shop-worn issues, except for the questions about whether South Korea will apologize for insulting Kim Chong-Il in death by not sending a delegation.

Several commentators noted that the questionnaire appears to be a riposte to the US whose Assistant Secretary of State insisted that North-South talks are a condition for North Korean-US talks. They assess that the document is a virtual manifesto of the fundamental disagreements between North and South Korea and that talks will not occur soon.

NightWatch demurs. The questionnaire is mostly old hat issues and some outright silliness. It accuses South Korea of treason by not sending a delegation to Kim's funeral, as if he was some kind of leader with the stature of his father, a true Korean hero of the anti-Japanese fight. Not even North Koreans thought of Kim Chong-il in remotely heroic terms. This issue is completely contrived.

The larger significance of the questionnaire is that it backtracks on solemn vows to not deal with the Lee government in South Korea. "The Lee Myung-bak (President of South Korea) gang of traitors should reflect upon itself to see if it can be our dialogue partner."

The document also is a clumsy attempt to meddle in South Korean politics. Presidential elections are scheduled in April. The message behind the message is the North could deal with a different South Korean government.

Beyond that, the fact of the document is more important than its content. Despite all the hubris and phony sense of offended national pride, North Korea is desperate for outside help. That is the message behind the message. The questionnaire is an appeal, in the typical North Korean fashion of asking for aid while insulting the potential donor. There will be North-South talks, if only to clarify the nine points and move on from there.

Iran: Supreme Leader Khamenei made a significant statement of defiance against sanctions and Israel during a rare Friday prayer lecture at Tehran University. "'From now onward, we will support and help any nations, any groups fighting against the Zionist regime across the world, and we are not afraid of declaring this,' Khamenei said.

Comment: This threat looks serious. Iran's retaliation for sanctions will be unconventional. The hostility of its leaders to Israel looks implacable. Long before Iran executes the threat, the Ayatollah Khamenei must deal with the consequences of losing Syria as an ally and a bridge to its proxies, Lebanese Hezbollah and Hamas. The threat rings increasingly hollow, plus Iran is undergoing a monetary meltdown which provides a motive for the Ayatollah to appeal to the external threat to shore up national unity.

Kuwait: More than 60 percent of Kuwait's citizens went to the polls on 2 February to elect its fourth parliament since 2006. About 240,000 of 400,000 registered voters cast their votes to choose from a selection of 287 candidates for 50 seats within the Kuwait National Assembly.

Press authorities reported that Kuwait is divided into five constituencies and a voter can choose four candidates. The ten candidates that garner the most votes from each constituency are then sworn into the Assembly.

Kuwait's Islamist-led opposition won a landslide majority in the snap election. It secured 34 seats in the 50-member parliament, according to results released on Friday. Outright Islamists now hold 14 seats. Results also showed that female candidates fared particularly poorly. There are now no female representatives in Kuwait's parliament.

Comment: Democracy continues to work in favor of the Islamists, even in Arab countries that have experienced no political upheaval. The election is a bad portent about Kuwaiti attitudes towards Americans and American ships and aircraft.

Egypt: A large number of protesters staged a peaceful march on Friday to demonstrate their solidarity with families of Port Sa'id victims of the soccer riots which resulted in 74 deaths. They condemned clashes near the Interior Ministry in Cairo.

Comment: The security lapses at the high profile game are now being blamed on the military government, in an adroit exercise of political legerdemain. Groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, that want the military out of power as quickly as possible appear primed to take advantage of any government shortcoming to push out the military government.

The public looks pro-Brotherhood much more than pro-Egyptian Army. The Army appeared earlier to be seeking a way out that protects its interests and holdings, but it is in danger of misjudging its welcome. That could be catastrophic for internal stability.

End of NightWatch for 3 February.

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