North Korea: For the record. Analysis of new commercial satellite imagery by the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University reports that North Korea is "putting the external finishing touches on" an experimental light water nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. The readout report states that the reactor probably will be operational in 2014.
Comment: Completion and operation of the reactor probably will be the first achievements of the new strategic line that blends economic construction and building nuclear armed forces simultaneously.
North Korea-US: The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) announced that US citizen Kenneth Bae, who has been in detention since last November, has been convicted and sentenced.
"The trial of Pae Jun-ho, an American citizen, took place held at the Supreme Court of the DPRK on April 30."
"He was arrested while committing hostile acts against the DPRK after entering Rason City as a tourist on November 3 last year."
"The Supreme Court sentenced him to 15 years of compulsory labor for this crime."
Comment: North Korea has not stated the nature of the "hostile acts." The sentence is three years longer than the sentence given to two US reporters who strayed into North Korea in 2009. The two women received 12 years at hard labor, but were released after serving almost five months of their sentence. The crime which Bae admitted should have received a harsher sentence.
During the past 20 years every American sentenced to hard labor has been released after negotiations, usually payment of a fine and serving some time in prison. None have said they were mistreated.
If Kim Chong-il were still alive and in control, Bae could expect to be released in a few months after negotiations and appropriate payments. However, Kim Jong Un has made a point of not following the precedents of his grandfather and father and of moving North Korea in new directions.
The North's handling of Bae's sentence will be an important measure of its willingness to engage the US directly. If the regime refuses to receive a US emissary or a mediator, that bodes ill for Bae's release and for stability on the Korean Peninsula.
Pakistan: Former president Musharraf reportedly told a visiting US Congressional delegation that he wanted a graceful second exile. He said he did not want to leave as a deserter, but with dignity and honor. According to The Nation, the Pakistan Army leadership and the government want to grant him safe and dignified passage, but they want him out. His aides say he insists on settling his court cases before leaving.
Comment: This is vintage Musharraf bravado. When he was president, he vowed he would submit to a national referendum on his government if he broke the law. Instead he fled in 2007, when faced with impeachment and imprisonment for suspending the constitution.
Pakistani leaders have a strong interest in avoiding what they consider the bad precedent and national ignominy that would result from putting a former chief of army staff and president in prison. They fear it would undermine respect for national institutions and the civil order, more than it might increase respect for the rule of law.
Conversely, Pakistani military governors have no qualms about arresting, imprisoning and executing former prime ministers, such as Zulfikar ali Bhutto in 1979, or imprisoning the Chief Justice of Pakistan, which Musharraf did in 2007.
Musharraf's comments to the US delegation reflect his keen awareness of the government's reservations. He has a history of not recognizing when to accept a good deal. If he does not leave promptly, the courts look set to put him in jail.
Iran: The Foreign Minister said Iran considers use of chemical weapons in Syria a "red line" and wants the opposition investigated for using them.
"We have always emphasized that the use of chemical weapons on the part of anyone is our red line," Salehi said, according to the ISNA news agency. "Iran is opposed to the use of any kind of weapon of mass destruction, and not just their use but their production, accumulation, and use."
Salehi also urged the United Nations to investigate accusations by the Syrian government that Syrian opposition fighters had used chemical weapons.
Comment: Iran might be opposed to weapons of mass destruction, but Syria is not. It and North Korea have some of the largest stocks of chemical weapons among all countries. Iranian leaders know this.
What have been missing from the public domain coverage of this issue are tactical details of use, such as the target and amount of gas used. For Syria, limited use would seem to serve no tactical purpose, but large scale use would. For example, Iraq used chemical weapons extensively in the Iran-Iraq War, against the Kurds in Halabja in 988 and more than a dozen times against the Iranians between August 1983 and July 1988. They were decisive in an Iraqi victor in 1988.
Iraq also was prepared to use chemical weapons in 1991 to suppress a Shiite uprising in Najaf and Karbala after the war, but was deterred by the US. Instead it shelled the rebels.
No similar tactical or political advantage of limited use has been established in the public domain.
For the Syrian opposition groups, the political advantage of duping the US into joining the fighting is obvious and it is clear they have dissembled. Televised opposition video clips of so-called gas victims receiving treatment in emergency rooms have been debunked by experts who have posted to the web.
Sarin has no odor, but reporters have reported they smelled chlorine at the hospital in Aleppo where some victims were receiving treatment. Some of the medical staff and bystanders in the video wore street clothes. No one in the televised clips wore hazardous material protection while treating the alleged gas victims. No decontamination equipment was evident and none of the bystanders were in distress.
Feedback is welcome on this topic.
Iraq: For the record. Agence France-Presse reported that in April 460 people died in sectarian violence. The majority of the deaths came during the surge in violence in reaction to the government raid and clashes at Hawija on 23 April.
On 1 May, press reported 13 more people killed in the continuing fighting.
Comment: Last week president al Maliki described the fighting as an insurgency.
Israel: Israeli press reported that Prime Minister Netanyahu said Wednesday that the conflict with the Palestinians is not about territory, rather the Palestinians' refusal to recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland, appearing to counter a modified peace proposal from the Arab world. Netanyahu has not commented directly on the Arab League's latest initiative, but his words questioned its central tenet -- the exchange of land for peace.
Comment: Netanyahu's message is that the formula for exchange of value in the Arab initiative --- land for peace -- is flawed. Prospects for peace would improve when all Palestinian factions recognize Israel's right to exist.
Whatever Readers might think about this issue, Hamas refuses to recognize Israel. Hamas will take any land Israel is willing to cede to the Palestinians, but it still will not recognize Israel's right to exist.
What is worse is that Fatah is now so corrupt, even more so than the Hamas government in Gaza, that Hamas has become an essential participant in talks concerning the Palestinians. Its influence is growing and it still will not recognize Israel. Peace under these conditions is at best a ceasefire.
Bolivia: President Evo Morales expelled the US Agency for International Development (USAID) on 1 May.
Morales claimed that the USAID is involved with "alleged political interference in peasant unions and other social organizations….Never again, never again, USAID, who manipulate and use our leaders, our colleagues with hand-outs," Morales said in announcing the expulsion.
Morales also told the crowd that he "laments and is condemning" US Secretary of State John Kerry's remark, made during 17 April testimony to the US Congress, that "the Western Hemisphere is our backyard. It's critical to us." He then ordered David Choquehuanca, Bolivia's foreign minister, to inform the US embassy of his decision.
He made the announcement before a crowd outside the presidential palace during a May Day rally.
USAID said in a statement it has spent nearly $2bn in Bolivia over the past 50 years on projects in education, health and food security, among other areas that were fully coordinated with the Bolivian government.
Comment: Kerry's reference to Latin and South America as "our backyard" incensed leftists throughout the continent, evidently including Morales, as patronizing and demeaning. The real reason for the expulsion appears related to government claims that the US has been using USAID to strengthen Morales' opponents and block his plans.
Morales previously expelled the US ambassador and agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in 2008. With the death of Hugo Chavez, Morales is in position to be the new leader of the anti-American consortium of countries in South America. He has taken a step in that direction.
End of NightWatch
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