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NightWatch: North Korea Fails to Carry Out "Merciless Attack"

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

South Korea-North Korea: South Korea completed two hours of live-fire military drills on the offshore islands off the west coast without incident. South Korean troops on five islands near the disputed sea boundary fired artillery into waters southward, away from North Korea, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said.

North Korea did not carry out its threat to respond with a 'merciless attack."

Comment: On Sunday, a North Korean officer told the press that North Koreans would respond to any provocation with ``merciless retaliatory strikes.'' On Monday, the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea issued a statement that indicated North Korea is prepared for a ``total war,'' and that the South Korean training will lead to a ``complete collapse'' of ties between the Koreas.

North Korea's military maintained increased vigilance during the drills, but national leaders evidently discerned no provocation in the South Korean training. The South' forces remain vigilant in case of a delayed response. South Korean forces are prepared to retaliate swiftly should the North engage in a provocation.

The NightWatch hypothesis is that the North's needs are so great that it will not provoke a crisis that might damage prospects for aid.

Pakistan: In the Sindh Province Assembly on Tuesday, Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik kept his promise to disclose the investigation report of the murder of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Malik also vowed to bring former president Musharraf back to Pakistan because he has been declared a "proclaimed offender" on the grounds that Musharraf denied approval for giving Bhutto the ultra-high security status to which she was entitled. "We will issue a red notice and involve Interpol to bring back Musharraf to the country."

"The then CPO Abdul Aziz - the senior responsible police officer - also is being held responsible for the deliberate destruction of evidence," Malik added.

The minister said that the same Pakistani Taliban group which has been held responsible in the investigation report also is responsible for carrying out several other attacks on Benazir Bhutto in the past. "Wherever Mohtarma (i.e., honorific for Benazir Bhutto) went for her rallies, the suspects left their remnants at those places where they tried to kill her. There was an element of the TTP [Tehreek-i-Taliban] everywhere. The main accused in the case not only planned but also conspired and executed the whole plan."

Comment: The Interior Minister's report exposes a breakdown of the entire security establishment, starting with then-president Musharraf, but including investigatory authorities at every level. They all failed to see a pattern in prior assassination attempts against the late Benazir Bhutto and failed to protect her.

Aside from the security issues, Malik's actions also ensure that Musharraf will not keep his promise to return from the UK in order to save Pakistan, as he has said.

Finally, the Ministry's action against Musharraf removes Prime Minister Gilani and President Zardari from the front page of the newspapers for the first time in weeks. Minister Malik has diverted public and press attention from the contempt of the Supreme Court indictment against the Prime Minister for not re-activating criminal charges against President Zardari.

It is a temporary respite from news coverage for the Prime Minister and the President. Most Pakistanis much prefer to bash Musharraf.

Kyrgyzstan: Yesterday, 20 February, President Atambayev told a visiting senior US diplomat that foreign military personnel at Bishkek's Manas International Airport should leave Kyrgyzstan by summer 2014. The US operates a facility at Manas airport that enables air logistic support to US forces in Afghanistan.

Comment: Even the Kyrgyz are preparing for the departure of US forces from Afghanistan in 2014. This is another manifestation of regional awareness that the end game has begun.

Iran-Egypt-US: A US Defense Department spokesman said the US has no indications that the Iranian naval ships which transited the Suez Canal with Egyptian permission ever reached a Syrian port this past weekend. Two Iranian frigates with a support ship supposedly transited the Suez Canal en route the Syrian port of Tartus, to join Russian ships there. Iranian media bragged about the out of area deployment.

Comment: The Iranian media claim the ships reached the Syrian port of Tartus, but the US says they did not. Neither side apparently is willing to divulge to open source news services the present location of the ships.

The US spokesman said there was nothing particularly noteworthy about the latest deployment of the warships. That statement is not accurate because the Iranians showed they are prepared to use military power, such as it is, in support of their allies. That is not a trivial demonstration of intent.

The navy's execution seems to have fallen short, but the leadership's intention is clear, which is backed up by the decision to cut crude exports to France and the UK. Iranian threats look serious, never mind that they also are potentially suicidal.

Iran is struggling to protect its interests simultaneously on two fronts - in Syria and against the international community. Iran seems comfortable confronting the international community, but is struggling to support effectively its proxy in Damascus.

The attempted deployment of naval ships to Syria measures the importance Iran attaches to the survival of the al Asad government. Cutting oil to the UK and France, by comparison, appears to have been a much less burdensome executive decision. Syria represents Iran's greatest strategic vulnerability. The banking sanctions on dollar-delimited transactions are a close second and the oil export embargo is a distant third.

Iran-Europe: Iranian National Oil Company head Ahmad Qalehbani said on 20 February that Iran could cut crude exports to other European Union nations, in addition to France and the United Kingdom, if the member states continue to take hostile action against Iran.

Comment: Iran is playing hard ball. A cut in Iranian oil exports to Greece, for example, would undermine the austerity measures enacted by the Greek government as a condition for the European bailout. Greece could become insolvent even with the European bailout.

Iran-Beijing: Update. Chinese leaders disapprove of Iran's oil ban against France and the United Kingdom, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said. He said China hopes all sides can return to dialogue as soon as possible. China and India have agreed to cut oil imports from Iran by 10%.

Comment: While supportive of the US policy, the cuts are politically symbolic, not substantive.

Greece- European Union: On 21 February, Greece received approval for a second bailout, after eurozone ministers approved a 130 billion euro ($172 billion) package in exchange for austerity measures and strict conditions.

Eurogroup President Jean-Claude Juncker said the agreement was far-reaching and involved the private sector. For example, Greece announced on 21 February that it will pursue legislation to enforce losses on bondholders who do not participate in a voluntary bond swap plan.

The eurogroup also announced it will debate the draft "Two-Pack" of European Union (EU) rules that would give the European Commission administrative powers in countries that have sought international assistance to avoid bankruptcy. The rules also would allow for enhanced surveillance in countries deemed at risk of severe financial disturbance.

The European Commission should create a strengthened, permanent ground presence in Greece, according to a eurogroup statement released after reaching the agreement on a second Greek bailout.

Comment: NightWatch joins those analysts who described the bailout as a Band-Aid and point out that it is a manifestation of a temporizing strategy that has not worked in nearly a decade -- using liquidity to buy time for prosperity to resume.

The objective is to build investor confidence that Greece is on the path towards recovery. However, there are no reported major new investments in Greece. This bailout money seems likely to disappear, like the last.

Greece has no prospect of prosperity for at least half a generation -- the time it would take for productivity to rebound, if it can. Long before productivity improves, the bailout funds will have run out. The bailout, however, might rescue some Greek banks for a time, but not Greece. An extreme right- or left-wing revolution is more likely to occur before economic recovery.

A point worth noting is that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is a contributor to the bailout fund, which means US  government funds have been committed to bailout Greece.

End of NightWatch

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