South Korea-North Korea: The first high-level meeting between the two Koreas in seven years ended without any agreement. The North demanded that Seoul postpone the upcoming military exercises with the United States until after the two Koreas hold reunions for families separated since the Korean War later this month.
"We've become clearly aware of North Korea's intentions, and this was also an opportunity for us to clearly explain our principles," an unidentified government official said.
Comment: The only innovation in the old carrot and stick tactics is the North's demand to hold the reunions hostage to a postponement, as opposed to a cancellation, of Allied exercises. The family reunions appear destined for cancellation.
India-Russia: Update. On 7 February, an Indian Navy Mig-29, flown by an Indian Navy pilot, landed successfully on the Indian aircraft carrier, Vikramaditya, formerly known as the Admiral Gorshkov. This is the first Indian flight activity on the carrier. The Russians decommissioned the carrier in 1996.
Vikramaditya was handed over to the Indian Navy on 16 November 2013 in Russia. It arrived at the new naval base in Kanwar, south of Mumbai on 5 January.
Sea trials will take up to four months this year, according to the Indian Navy. In other words, the ship will begin patrols in 2014. A team of Russian specialists arrived onboard the ship and will stay in India for a year to make any necessary repairs.
The Indian Navy commissioned its first squadron of MiG-29K/KUB carrier-based fighters in 2013. The squadron, dubbed the "Black Panthers," comprises 12 single-seat MiG-29Ks and four two-seat MiG-29KUBs. Eventually, the Vikramaditya is expected to carry up to 24 MiG-29K/KUB fighter jets.
Comment: This is, and will be for some time, the largest and most powerful warship permanently based in the Indian Ocean.
Afghanistan: One commentary today opined that the US finally has turned the tables on President Karzai by deciding to wait until after the presidential elections in April to try to get a security agreement.
What almost every commentator has forgotten is that Karzai said last year that he would not sign an agreement because he was leaving office and did not want to bind his successor. He has done precisely what he said he would do.
He has been vilified because American politicians, generals and diplomats apparently did not take him seriously. The relationship has been downhill ever since.
Disbelief that he was serious or the hubris that the US could "turn" its client led to escalating tensions over multiple issues, bad behavior and nasty denunciations. Since the last presidential elections, Karzai changed from being a partner in American goals to being suspicious of US intentions and lately an Afghan Pashtun critic of America's failures in his country.
Allegations of corruption are not relevant in this issue. In a region as poor as Afghanistan and Pakistan, there will be corruption everywhere, even if the US governed directly.
Every outgoing regime is corrupt, even if it was not. Corruption is a cultural term of derision and signifies political distance from the outgoing regime, not necessarily a criminal charge. The US special inspector general's reports on the corruption of US contractors and some officials in Afghanistan raise a legitimate question about who has been the more corrupt in criminal terms.
Karzai has said consistently that he wants his successor to be responsible for Afghanistan's future relations with the US. In waiting until after the April presidential elections, the US is doing what he has wanted for at least a year. But American officials still have not gotten the message and do not understand Afghanistan, if they think they are playing a one-upmanship game with the Afghans.
Syria: Update. At the Geneva peace talks on Wednesday, the so-called opposition laid out a transition plan for the Syrian government, which included chasing out foreign fighters and a path to elections without Asad. The government refused to discuss it.
Comment: Some Western commentaries suggest that progress has been achieved in getting the two sides to talk directly. Well… actually the substance of the parties and the substance of the talks matter more than the venue. But everybody knows that.
Western press continues to focus on the plight of people in Homs which has been under siege for supporting the rebels. Iranian press focuses on the massacre of civilians by the so-called rebels in the town of Ma'an in Hama province. Western press has not mentioned Ma'an.
Egypt: Defense Minister Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi is making Russia the destination of his first trip abroad since overthrowing the Mursi regime last July. Officially, he will discuss bilateral defense relations. News services reported that he has $2 billion to spend on arms, courtesy of unidentified Gulf countries.
Comment: The Russians will treat the Field Marshal well and will be eager to recover a foothold in a country that was their client and in an arms market that was exclusively theirs before 1973. US policy in Egypt has resulted in significant gains for the Russians.
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