North Korea Backing Off on Threats

Posted: May 17, 2013 12:01 AM

North Korea-Japan: The Korean Central News Agency reported on 14 May, "Isao Iijima, the special counselor in charge of crisis management for Japan's Abe Cabinet, and his companion arrived in Pyongyang on the 14th."

North Korean television broadcast video of Mr. Iijima stepping from a scheduled Air Koryo flight and being greeted by Kim Chol Ho, a vice director in the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Party Daily Rodong Sinmun published an article that declared "Japan's settlement of the past crimes is not a business-like matter. It is a political and moral issue for redeeming the past crimes against humanity and an issue to be settled under international law. This serves as a touchstone distinguishing whether Japan has the will to turn over a new leaf, drawing a lesson from its crime-woven history, or not."

Comment: Iijima is the only foreign emissary visiting North Korea. One of Iijima's responsibilities is management of the abduction issue, which refers to North Korean intelligence's kidnapping of 17 Japanese citizens between 1977 and 1983 to teach Japanese at the North Korean spy school. That is one topic of discussion that can get Japan's attention regardless of other sources of tension and sanctions.

The Rodong Sinmun article refers to the World War II practice by the Japanese army to abduct Korean women for use as "comfort women" for the troops.

A month ago North Korean threatened to bring nuclear fire on Tokyo. Now it is using the abduction issue to prevent complete isolation under the severe sanctions regime. Kaesong is a similar issue that it could use with South Korea at the right time.

Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Abe said Wednesday he might meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un if it could help resolve the long-pending issue of Pyongyang's kidnapping of Japanese citizens. 'If a summit meeting is deemed as an important means in considering ways to resolve the abduction issue, we must take it into consideration as a matter of course in negotiating with them,' Abe told a parliamentary committee.

Comment: This begins to look like a thaw. It is entirely tactical, but better than threats.

North Korea-South Korea: The spokesman for the General Bureau for Central Guidance to the Development of the Special Zone gave an answer to a question put by KCNA on Wednesday.

"The spokesman accused the South Korean authorities of being so imprudent as to groundlessly take issue with the DPRK, far from paying due attention to the issues as regards the crisis in the Kaesong Industrial Zone (KIZ) and working hard to bring it into normal operation."

"The DPRK is now making a serious examination of whether it will deal with such regime or not and whether there will be something to be solved in dealing with it or not."

"If the south side truly intends to normalize the operation of KIZ, it should not talk about dialogue with unessential issues such as the issue of communications and carrying out of goods but opt for settling basic issues and stop provocative remarks and confrontation racket against the DPRK."

"Availing ourselves of this opportunity, we remind the South Korean authorities once again that the prospect of KIZ and the future orientation of the north-south relations entirely depend on their attitude."

Comment: This backtracks on the outright rejection of the 24 April talks proposal and uses language that is similar to that before the 9 April closure of the facility. It is not a rejection, but a statement of conditions that would redirect talks proposals to weightier matters.

The South tried to maintain an open line of communications with the North by focussing on issues that it judged would be relatively non-controversial. The North's reply invites a proposal to talk about more substantive issues, but with conditions. The progress of this public dialogue will be instructive in helping judge what the North wants and how badly. If internal leadership conditions are unsettled the talks will go nowhere.

Egypt: Cairo Television on 14 May reported, "The Shura decides to discuss Judicial Authority law on 25 May."

Meanwhile, the Supreme Judicial Council - the judges union -- decided Wednesday to suspend its participation in a government-backed judicial reform conference, in response to the action by the Shura to proceed with deliberation of a bill that would result in the retirement or dismissal of thousands of judges.

Comment: The Mursi government backed by the Brotherhood has concluded that the judges are the main obstacle to getting things done the Islamist way, not the nature of the changes they want to make. They appear determined to fire a huge number of judges by pensioning them.

The secular opposition has circulated a petition to remove the Mursi government. They have 2 million signatures.

Tunisia: Tunisia is taking a harder line on preaching by ultraconservative Muslim groups. The security crackdown has sparked demonstrations by rock-throwing protesters and ominous warnings of terrorist attacks to come.

Comment:  While security forces are trying to rein in the ultraconservative Muslims, the Army is pursuing al Qaida operatives in the southern frontiers. Some have recently returned from Mali. Security problems contribute to its inability to manage the economy and political reform.

A recent poll of Tunisians, published on 10 May, found that 70% of those polled favor replacing the Islamist Ennahda-led coalition with a government led by a secular party, Nidaa Tounes, translated The Call of Tunisia. The revolution continues.

End of NightWatch


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