Night Watch

North Korea: The regime in Pyongyang has stated its willingness to discuss relief aid with South Korea's non-governmental aid group, the government and the South group said in a 22 August statement.

North Korea's National Reconciliation Council faxed a reply to the NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea after it proposed holding consultations over flood relief aid recently, the aid group said. Following the North group's acceptance and a subsequent letter of invitation, the South Korean organization applied for the Unification Ministry's approval to visit Pyongyang for a discussion on 24 August, according to the group and a government official.

Comment: This is the first positive exchange between North Korea and any South Korean organizations since Kim Jong-un came to power and beat back a military challenge to his authority. This month the North has reached out to China officially and to South Korea unofficially. Peace is not breaking out, but Kim's advisors seem to recognize the country needs help and are not letting ideology get in the way of obtaining it.

Contacts with the US are frozen most recently because of the large-scale US-Republic of Korea war games which began on 20 August and will last through the end of the month. Kim ordered his troops to be prepared for "sacred war" and visited the unit that attacked a South Korean island in 2010.

In combination the request for aid and the military huffing and puffing are meant to convey the same trite message: the North's willingness to discuss aid does not mean it is weak. In fact, everybody knows that is precisely what it means.

Pakistan: The former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States said Pakistan and the US should "divorce", in an address to a US "think tank." Ambassador Hussain Haqqani justified his recommendation that relations should be downgraded, in part, on the basis of a Pew Research Center survey in June that found that 75% of Pakistanis polled consider the US to be an enemy of Pakistan.

According to the account in The News, Haqqani said it was just as unrealistic for Pakistanis to think that the United States would side with Pakistan by launching war on India as it was for the United States to think Pakistan would give up its nuclear weapons or sever ties with extremists. He said, "Equally unrealistic is that Pakistan ... will give up support for jihadi groups that it deems to be a subconventional (sic) force multiplier for regional influence."

Haqqani described himself as a member of a small minority of Pakistanis who favor strong ties to the US.

Comment: In NightWatch's experience, the Pew Center survey significantly understates the extent and depth of Pakistani hostility towards the United States. The implications of the survey are far reaching. They mean that any Pakistani government that cooperates with the US is acting against the will of an overwhelming majority of Pakistani voters.

The only way that is possible is because the Pakistan Army wields power over national security policy and the civilian government does what it is told. The Army needs US military assistance to maintain the fantasy that it defends Pakistan from India, although everyone with sense knows the last thing India wants is more Muslims and tribal minorities.

In fact, the Pakistan Army generals need US military assistance to maintain the Army's control of Pakistani national security policy. Haqqani's address exposes that Pakistani national security policy serves no strategic US interests and will not change. What he also might have said is that US involvement in South Asia in the past decade has strengthened Pakistani ties to China.

Syria: The Syrian army recaptured three neighborhoods in the center of Aleppo while clashes continued in other parts of the city, residents told the press on 23 August.

An interview in The Independent is worth reading for a Syrian government perspective. Robert Fisk reported on an interview with a captured member of the Free Syrian Army, after a successful Syrian Army re-capture of a neighborhood in Aleppo. The youth told his captors and Fisk that he did not realize how beautiful "Palestine" was. This young man and his fellow fighters were not Syrian and though they were fighting in Palestine against the Israelis.

Comment: Fisk was in Aleppo to take the interview. He was escorted by an English-speaking Syrian Army major. His description of what he saw is neutral. Reports about the disorientation of foreign fighters have surfaced previously in Syria, as they did in Iraq during the height of the civil war. Nothing is quite as it is reported.

Politics. Former Syrian National Council member Randa Kassis said President Bashar al-Asad will only be toppled when he loses the support of the minority Alawites. Kassis, a critic of the SNC who maintains the group is ignoring the increasing influence of Islamist extremists, said, "Without the defection of the Alawites, we won't be able to do anything and we will go straight into civil war.

Comment: NightWatch agrees with Kassis' judgment, with one caution. The resignation of Asad appears increasingly likely, but does not signify the end of the Alawite regime. Asad appears weary of his duties, especially since his brother was maimed by a bombing in Damascus. He never had much enthusiasm for the presidency, but has done his duty to his sect and tribe.

He is the public face of the Alawite political and military elite and its Sunni financiers and supporters. Nevertheless, he is expendable.

Syria-Iraq: Reports that a Syrian jet penetrated Iraqi airspace are untrue, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's media adviser said on 23 August.

Comment: Fixed wing combat aircraft always violate national borders when attacking targets near the border. It is a function of the physics of jet-powered flight. The story behind the story is that Iraq did not protest or respond in any obvious fashion, which implies tacit consent. That explains the denial. There is no need to explain an event that officially did not happen.

Syria-Russia: The Russian Foreign Ministry's point man on Syria says Moscow has guarantees from the Syrian government that it will not use or move its chemical weapons. Speaking in an interview for The Associated Press on Thursday, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said that Russia is working closely with the Syrian government to make sure its arsenal of chemical weapons remains securely in place and does not fall into the hands of terrorists.

Comment: Two points are noteworthy. All through the past 18 months of fighting, Syria has relied on Russia, not Iran, to present its case to the world and protect it from UN sanctions. The primary Russian interest is to block the US, and secondarily, NATO.

Point of order. On multiple occasions this month US news outlets have described Turkey as a one-time ally of Syria that has now turned against it. The Turks have not been allies of Arabs in more than a thousand years. Somebody needs to tell Fox News and others that their research staffers need to actually read some history.

The second point is about the US statements of concern about Syrian use of chemical weapons. The US warning to Syria ignored the infinitely more serious and palpable threat that Salafist or al Qaida fighting groups might overrun and capture a CW depot and redistribute its weapons to other terrorist groups or fire them at Israel.

Syria has been as responsible as any great power in controlling its chemical weapons. It has assured the international community on multiple occasions that it would not use CW against its own citizens.

On the other hand, theWestern and Arab backers of the Syrian opposition do not even know the identity, nationality, composition and theology of the opposition fighting groups that might take possession of Syrian weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems. The danger that these could be turned against Israel is reinforced by the statement of the captured fighter in Aleppo that he understood he was fighting against Israel.

If Syrian opposition militants fire Syrian CW at Israel, war crimes accusations against Western and Sunni Arab policy makers could follow at some point.

Egypt: President Mursi intervened to release a newspaper editor jailed for insulting the President him on Thursday, issuing a law for the first time since he assumed legislative powers earlier this month. President Mohammed Mursi's ban on detention for journalists accused of publishing-related offenses overrides a court decision earlier in the day ordering newspaper editor Islam Afifi to remain in prison pending trial in September.

Comment: In this instance Mursi took action that the international media applauds. The plaudits will ignore that he acted in the same authoritarian fashion as Mubarak, overriding the existing law; legislating his own; and ignoring a decision of the courts who were ruling on the existing law.

His action betrays an inclination to undermine other institutions of government to burnish his public image as he sees fit, governing in precisely the same way as his predecessor. This is dictatorship, not democracy. When the ends justify the means, there is no need for elected government or a balance of power between branches of government. That is what Mursi demonstrated today.

Nigeria-Mali: for the record. Military intervention will be inevitable if talks with militants who are controlling northern Mali fail, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said on 23 August. Jonathan said the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) would "definitely" send an intervention force -- with UN approval -- if a deal could not be reached.

Comment: The frequency of recent comments about an intervention forces is a good indicator of progress towards its formation. France remains pivotal for logistic support, but the ECOWAS states appear ready to provide the troops, many of whom are likely to be units of the Nigerian Army.

End of NightWatch ###

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