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Iran Rejects Biden's Offer for Direct Talks

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South Korea-North Korea: North Korea restated its threat of a "real war" on Friday, 8 February, in response to a statement on Wednesday by the Chairman of South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Jung Seung-jo.

General Jung told parliament, "If the North shows a clear intent to use a nuclear weapon, it is better to get rid of it and go to war, rather than being attacked."

The North's propaganda machine posted a comment on one of its web sites. "On top of hatred and indignation, we cannot help but feel like laughing," referring to the remarks made by General Jung. "They (i.e., the South Koreans) do not know what a real war is like and they would shudder after experiencing our military's spirit to attack in a single breath."

"We can communicate no more with the herd of vicious traitors of the nation," the comment read.

Comment: The North's threats are the same old tired bravado. The new information is that South Korea might have a pre-emptive or first strike plan. General Jung did not go that far in his statement, but the North understood his message. This generation of South Korean senior generals is not intimidated by the North's threats and has matched them, especially since the sinking of the patrol ship Cheonan in 2010.

North Korea-China: A South Korean news outlet reported that a high-ranking North Korean envoy arrived in Beijing on 6 February, according to an unidentified source in Beijing. The report did not identify the official. "Although we haven't confirmed the specific identification of the envoy, we were told he is an official of the ruling Workers' Party's international affairs department."

Comment: This report is the only source of this information. NightWatch has been expecting a high-level North Korean official to travel to China since passage of the UN Resolution last month. The International Affairs Department of the Korean Workers' Party Central Committee is one of the entities customarily charged with delicate communications with the Chinese leadership.

Most likely, the Chinese summoned an envoy to provide an official explanation of the North's recent behavior and statements. He is likely to be given some firm guidance.

Iran: For the record. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday rejected Vice President Biden's offer of direct bilateral talks, saying it was a subterfuge intended to establish US control in the country.

In a meeting with air force commanders, Khamenei said, "You (i.e., the US) take up arms against the nation of Iran and say: 'negotiate or we fire'. But you should know that pressure and negotiations are not compatible and our nation will not be intimidated by these actions." He also said that direct talks between Iran and the United States will not solve the dispute over Iran's nuclear program. "I'm not a diplomat, I'm a revolutionary, and speak frankly and directly," Khamenei said, according to Iran's Mehr News agency.

During a press conference in Egypt, Iranian President Ahmadi-Nejad also said that Iran cannot hold meaningful talks with the US about the nuclear program if Washington is threatening his country

Comment: Khamenei is the top decision maker in Iran and is the person to whom President Ahmadi-Nejad answers and from whom Ahmadi-Nejad receives policy guidance. If Khamenei says there will be no direct talks, none will occur unless he approves.

Khamenei is not the top religious leader, as some news outlets reported. All Grand Ayatollahs outrank him in religious authority. Khamenei's description of himself as a revolutionary exposes a significant cultural difference between his use of the word and its meaning as understood in the West.

Egypt: For the record. Authorities increased security for Egypt's opposition leaders on Thursday after several hardline Muslim clerics issued fatwas -- religious edicts -- calling for them to be killed.

Egypt's prime minister and the Muslim Brotherhood condemned the fatwas and the top prosecutor launched an investigation against one of the clerics.

Tunisia: Update. The Ennahda Movement, the Islamist party that leads the ruling coalition in parliament, rejected Prime Minister Jebali's decision on Wednesday to replace the government by a small caretaker government of technocrats until general elections can be arranged. Jebali also is the Secretary General of  Ennahda.

The Islamist party dominating Tunisia's ruling coalition on Thursday rejected its own prime minister's decision to replace the government to try to appease critics, signaling that the political crisis brought on by the assassination of a prominent leftist politician is far from over.

A few dozen protesters tried to demonstrate in front of the Interior Ministry on 7 February, but were driven off by police who fired tear gas at them.

Judges and lawyers began a two-day strike Thursday to protest the murder of opposition leader Chokri Belaid, himself a lawyer. They also protested what they described as government interference in the judiciary.

At the court of first instance in Tunis, men and women attorneys dressed in black robes chanted the national anthem at the top of their voices before angrily denouncing the assassination of Belaid.

Comment: The prime minister's attempt to finesse the unrest has failed. He could even lose his job, if the Ennahda faction in the parliament has sufficient strength. Ennahda means renaissance in Arabic.

End of NightWatch ###

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