North Korea-US: Update. Officials from the US and North Korea held their first meeting on nuclear issues on 23 February in Beijing. The purpose of the nuclear talks is to determine whether North Korea is ready for nuclear talks.
Afghanistan: At least eight people were killed and 21 wounded on 22 February during riots over the confirmed burning of Korans by US soldiers in Afghanistan. Demonstrations occurred in every major town in Afghanistan.
The US ambassador has suspended all travel for Embassy personnel and ordered all personnel to take refuge in secure compounds until further notice. Americans have been ordered to shelter in place and to avoid the embassy, which expects more violent demonstrations in the next few days.
Comment: The foreign forces command confirmed the Korans had been burned after an Afghan found their charred remains in a waste fire. Afghans disagree on lots of issues, but not on the sacredness of the Koran. The riots will stop after a day or two, but the memory that foreign soldiers disrespected the Koran will not fade.
Yemen: President Ali Abdullah Saleh is scheduled to return from the United States on 23 February to prepare to hand power to his elected successor, his vice president Abdurabu Mansur Hadi. Media services reported the election results are expected to be announced on 24 February, but vice president Hadi was the only candidate.
Comment: Yemen resembles Egypt in that the pro-US strongman has been replaced by a member of the establishment that he helped create. In Egypt, Musharraf's appointee, Field Marshal Tantawi, essentially succeeded his boss. In Yemen, Saleh's vice president will succeed him. In neither country has a fundamental change of government taken place. Expect more internal instability after a brief honeymoon period for the new president has passed.
Iran: The Civil Defense Organization plans to conduct drills in the country's petrochemical trade zone to boost crisis response capabilities, the organization's Caretaker of Health, Safety and Environmental (HSE) Affairs Mansour Rostamifar said on 22 February.
Comment: This is a significant development, assuming the drills are held, because of the high cost of civil defense drills to the civilian economy. Such activities always are a net drain on the economy and, therefore, much more diagnostic of national leadership thinking than military activities. The leadership is concerned about an attack and has ordered prudent precautions.
The Iranian leaders appear to expect an attack would target their oil infrastructure, though the external threat is against the nuclear industry. The civil defense drills make sense if the nuclear facilities are located within the "petrochemical trade zone."
Saudi Arabia-Syria: Dialogue on Syria is futile, Saudi King Abdallah told Russian President Dmitri Medvedev during a 22 February phone conversation, according to multiple media accounts. The King told the President that Russia should have coordinated with the Arab League before vetoing a resolution on Syria in the UN Security Council.
Comment: King Abdallah's remarks leave no doubt that the struggle in Syria is a fight to the death of the Alawite regime at the hands of the Sunnis. Nevertheless, the fight is still in its early stages because the Sunni opposition still has no leadership in Syria, no organization and no territory under control.
Somalia: Ethiopian and Somali forces, supported by Ethiopian tanks, captured the central Somali town of Baidoa, after al Shabaab fighters abandoned the town. There was no resistance from al Shabaab, an official said. This is tonight's good news.
End of NightWatch
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