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A Tale of Two Irans

Syrian Army Remains Intact

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North Korea-South Korea: South Korean authorities announced that North Korea has agreed to discuss accepting flood and humanitarian relief from South Korea. South Korea offered aid to North Korea through the Korean Red Cross last week."We got a reply back from North Korea this morning," requesting aid, said Park Soo-jin, deputy spokeswoman of South Korea's Unification Ministry.

Comment: Arrangements will be discussed at Panmunjom, so the deal is not done. If an agreement is reached, it would be the first instance of direct cooperation between the two states since Kim Jong-un came to power.

The Korean Central News Agency reported that flooding in July and Cyclone Bolaven in August killed more than 200 people and left tens of thousands homeless.

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Iran-Egypt: Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi said on 10 September that Iran is holding talks with Egypt on crude oil sales, according to the Iranian Students News Agency. A spokesman for the Egyptian Oil Ministry declined to comment on the report and referred questions to the Iranian government.

Comment: Egypt imports no oil from Iran. The statement contained no details about quantities and timing, but Egypt labors under a severe shortage of gasoline and other refined products. Fuel shortages were a major factor in the unrest that led to the ouster of former President Mubarak. They have continued under President Mursi.

Mursi's trip to Tehran for the Non-Aligned Movement summit advanced his more balanced foreign policy. It also might have had a strongly pragmatic purpose as well -- to make arrangements to ease Egypt's fuel shortages.

The terms of any sale will make a difference. For example, this might be a one-time deal to clear an Egyptian port. Some 2 million barrels of unsold oil are stranded at the Egyptian port of Sidi Kerir because of sanctions, according to energy specialists.

However, this could simultaneously be another manifestation of foreign policy balance. Egypt announced in July that it would continue to allow Iran to ship oil through the Suez Canal and through pipelines that run through Egypt. "Iranian oil, like any other oil, is transported in terms of contracts which are updated every year. We have not received any notifications to ban oil shipments from Iran," a source in the Egyptian energy sector told Egypt's Al Ahram newspaper. "The embargo only affects the EU states; we do not have anything to do with it." Iranian oil is transported through pipelines owned by Egypt's SUMED firm, the paper said.

Iran needs new markets because sanctions have resulted in nearly a 45% drop in exports, to 900,000 barrels per day, according to energy news analyses. The drop has occurred despite waivers the US has granted to US friends and allies that rely on Iranian crude, such as South Korea and India. Both of them --and even China-- have reduced their crude imports from Iran and found alternative sources.

Egypt has not sought and does not have a waiver from the US to import Iranian crude so as to exempt it from falling under US-imposed penalties. If a sale results without consulting the US, it could jeopardize US humanitarian aid for Egypt, increase tension between the two and incur banking or other economic penalties.

Russia-Syria: Russia has restated its earlier proposal for a conference that brings together 'all the players' in the Syria crisis, including opposition groups, citizens and the ruling regime. 'We are proposing to our Western partners the organization of a 'Taif conference' between all the players of the conflict,' Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov told Le Figaro, in an article to appear Wednesday.

Bogdanov also said Syrian President Bashar al-Asad's regime retains the support of the Syrian people, in particular those who fear the alternative posed by the opposition Free Syrian Army. According to Bogdanov, "This support is not motivated by the Syrians' love of Bashar al-Asad, but more their fear of those who could succeed him."

Comment: The US Secretary of State restated firm US opposition to the Russian proposal, just as it did earlier this year. The citation of the 'Taif conference' refers to a conference in Taif, Saudi Arabia, in late 1989 that produced a framework for settling the long-standing Lebanon civil war up to that time.

The Opposition: Syrian Brigadier Manaf Tlass, who defected this summer, said in an interview that aired on 10 September that he opposes any foreign military intervention in the Syrian civil war and that he is confident the opposition can topple President Bashar Asad's regime. He said the rebels need weapons.

Manaf Tlass is the son of Syria's former minister of defense who also defected. Both were members of Asad's inner circle for years. This prominent Sunni family has no future in Syria if the Asad or any Alawite regime survives.

The Tlass family lives in France which makes it a darling of international media but not necessarily influential among the Syrian opposition fighters inside Syria, lately said to involve 300 different groups. Almost any Syrian émigré leader who can guarantee the supply of guns and ammunition would have standing as a leader. That makes Tlass' statement about weapons appear to be an invitation to would-be suppliers to back him.

No prominent Syrian in exile has voiced support for outside troops, though some have appealed for enforcement of a no fly zone.

Finally, although the opposition continues the refrain of more guns, its many groups have no territory that they can defend from destruction by Syrian Army armor, artillery and combat aircraft. This becomes a chicken and egg argument almost, whether weapons would enable the opposition to create a secure base inside Syria or whether a secure base is essential for the creation of an effective fighting force.

Most often a secure base area is essential even for an effective insurgent force. Some western countries appear to be providing covert help in Lebanon and Jordan, judging from indications of some improvement in opposition capabilities in the fighting in Aleppo. For now, most knowledgeable experts, including two reports last week, judge that the Syrian Army remains intact and combat effective against the opposition.

Egypt-Syria: For the record. Diplomats from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt met on 10 September for the first gathering of a quartet of regional powers for the purpose of working out a resolution for Syria's civil war. No details of the meeting have been reported as of this Watch.

Comment: The meeting is the result of an initiative by Egyptian President Mursi whose apparent theme is that Middle Eastern countries with a stake in the crisis should solve it. Egyptian foreign ministry comments before the meeting suggested this initiative is a regional, scaled down version of the Russian proposal.

Mali: Update. Islamic police said they used a stage in a public square to amputate the right hand and left foot of five accused thieves in Gao, a city of northern Mali on Monday, in the latest application of Sharia law in the country's north. An Islamic court found the men guilty of highway robbery, the Islamists explained. The sentence for theft is to have a hand cut off. The sentence for highway robbery is to have the opposite foot cut off.

End of NightWatch ###

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