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North Korea: On 9 January, the government in Pyongyang rejected South Korea's proposal for a round of separated family reunions during the celebration of the Chinese New Year holiday on 31 January.

A message conveyed to the Ministry of Unification in Seoul by North Korea's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland said, "On the South side, war exercises go on without end and large scale combined US-ROK military drills will soon take place. Could scattered families and relatives reunite with peaceful hearts amidst the shells and bullets?"

"Scattered families' and relatives' reunions were originally raised by us last year and reached the stage of being put into action, but then they could not be realized due to the arrogance and hostility of the South side authorities."

"If the South side's proposal for reunions of scattered relatives and families over the New Year stemmed from a sincere desire to reduce the pain of division and improve North-South relations, then good. If nothing else takes place on the South side and there is the intent to discuss our proposal together then we will be able to talk at a good time."

Comment: The North's rejection is significant for several reasons. Despite Kim Jong Un's unctuous statements about improving North-South relations in 2014 in his new year's message, obviously, the North is not prepared to make good on his promise or it was just another lie.

The second point is that South Korean President Park called Kim's bluff on improving relations and found that it is phony.

Finally, the implication of this exchange is that the North's leadership is not sufficiently stable to handle a major foreign policy initiative. Park's offer has proven to be an excellent tactic to clarify the leadership's stability in Pyongyang. The conclusion is that it is not stable or confident enough to talk about separated families, which all Koreans consider a national tragedy.

Agriculture. Defector news outlets have confirmed that Agriculture is the main thrust of economic development this year. As one source said, the regime is promoting 2014 as the year of "putting farming first."

The communist party cadre has received orders to implement the new national priority and has been badgering people three months early to increase the fertilizer quota, which consists of humus, animal waste and human night soil. Every person has a quota to fill or has to buy a waiver chit. The goal is to achieve a bumper harvest.

According to reports from inside the North, people who are scatologically challenged are stealing human night soil to meet the quotas.

Comment: For those analysts who misunderstood Kim's speech, the main thrust for 2014 is inward. The era of outreach and innovation died with Chang Sung-taek. This year appears to be a giant leap backward.

The last time food production was the highest national priority was in 1993 when Kim Il-song replaced military first production with agriculture and production of consumer good as the top national priorities. Kim Il-song also terminated the national planning bureaucracy that year because all of the North's Seven-Year Plans had failed. The country was destitute.

Kim Jong Un lacks the authority and charisma to enable him to mimic his grandfather's action or even to pursue the profitable connections that his late Uncle had created. He continues to try to act as if he is the reincarnation of Kim Il-song, but consistently shows he has none of his grandfather's experience or leadership credentials.

Thus, Kim's new year's speech urged the farmers to apply more science and technology to improve the harvest as a major priority. Whoever wrote the speech deceived little Kim or its out of touch because there is no money for fertilizer and no science or technology for farming. Nevertheless, the Party cadre did the best it could and ordered everybody to collect more feces.

Iran: On 10 January Mehr News Agency reported that the second day of the new round of the talks between Abbas Araqchi, Iran's senior nuclear negotiator and deputy foreign minister, and Deputy European Union (EU) Foreign Policy Chief Helga Schmid has ended.

"During the intensive two-day talks between Araqchi and Schmid in Geneva, a resolution on the remaining issues regarding the implementation of the Geneva agreement at the level of senior political managers between the Islamic Republic and P5+1 countries was discussed and relevant conclusions were made."

Speaking about the talks, Araqchi said: "All disagreements have been resolved. However, the implementation of the Geneva agreement depends on the final decisions of the capitals [of Iran, the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany]."

Comment: Thus far Iran is the only participant to make this announcement, which raises suspicions about what has been agreed and how any agreement is being interpreted. Iran has made premature announcements in the past.

The danger for the US is that its actions during the past decade appear to have had the effect of advancing Iranian interests, even at the expense of American interests, as some judge them. The outcome of military intervention has been to empower a Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

The outcome of half-hearted action in Syria has been to prolong the tenure of a pro-Iranian, Ba'athist government in Damascus, creating what some analysts have called the Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus-Beirut axis.

The nuclear negotiations with Iran have been based on a reversal of US policy. The US now is willing to allow Iran to enrich uranium. A Sunni Arab would not consider that a record of positive achievements. In that judgment, Israeli strategists might agree.

Iraq: Update. News services reported on 9 January that Sunni Arab tribal militias have forced al Qaida fighters from Fallujah. They also announced they will not allow government forces back into the city.

Comment: The cumulative result of neglect and ineptitude by the al-Maliki government and its military leaders plus the actions of al-Qaida-affiliated fighters apparently is a new awakening among the Sunni Arab tribes of Anbar Governate. They want nothing to do with either of the outsiders.

With appropriate support, the actions of the tribal sheikhs might yet justify the cost in American lives, limbs and treasure to give Fallujah back to them. However, that judgment hinges on the creation of an autonomous and self-sustaining Sunni Arab state in Anbar Governate, perhaps modeled after the Kurdish autonomous region in the north.

Syria: Update. Rebel-on-rebel fighting between jihadists groups, both affiliated with al-Qaida, has killed nearly 500 people over the past week in northern Syria.

Comment: Battlefield reports show that almost all clashes in the past week have occurred in the provinces bordering Turkey and involved jihadists fighting other jihadists. In the past two days, no major attacks have been reported outside the 100-mile swath along the Turkish border.

Southern Syria is relatively calm for the first time in a year.

South Sudan: South Sudan government forces recaptured the town of Bentiu, the capital of Unity State. It had been under rebel control since late December.

An army spokesman said government troops led by Lieutenant General Jok Riek defeated the rebels in Bentiu and the army is pursuing the remnants of the mutineers .

Comment: Despite some earlier claims, the government forces have not captured Bor, the capital of Jonglei State. The capture of Bentiu ensures government control of oil assets and revenues.

What is missing is any mention of Ugandan military support. Until today's announcement, government forces near Bor were reported as stronger than those near Bentiu. Ugandan helicopter gunships almost certainly had a role in this alleged success. The rebels have no effective counter to gunships.

Central African Republic: Interim President Michel Djotodia and Prime Minister Nicolas Tiengaye resigned from office today. Their resignations were announced after two days of summit talks in Chad among the leaders of the ten states that comprise the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).

Comment: Residents of the national capital, Bangui, celebrated the change of leadership, but now there is no information about who will be the next leader.

African leaders do seem to be taking action to police their own region better than at any time since the ear of independence in the 1960s. There are 1,600 French troops and 4,000 African Union soldiers in the country, but thus far their peacekeeping efforts have conspicuous by their absence.

End of NightWatch ###

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