While Obama Cuts a Deal, Iran Ramps Up Uranium Enrichment

Posted: Jan 15, 2014 12:01 AM

South Korea-North Korea: The South Korean government today urged North Korea to reconsider its refusal to resume reunions of family members separated by the Korean War. The North has not responded yet.

Comment: The North wants to link family reunions to a resumption of tourism to Mount Kumgang. The South wants these to remain separate issues. A primary reason is that the North has not satisfactorily explained why a North Korean guard shot and killed a South Korean tourist at the Mount Kumgang resort in 2008.

South Korea left open an option for discussing tourism should the North "make concrete suggestions" for resuming it.

The two countries are conducting public diplomacy through their broadcast media at this point. That is a preliminary stage of communication that sometimes leads to substantive, private talks. The public exchanges indicate the North is willing to hold talks provided the South does nothing more to aggravate the North. The South is willing to talk about practical matters related to tourism.

The two now have completed one full cycle. They have learned, or should have learned, that both are willing to hold direct talks, but have not yet agreed on the agenda.

Thailand: Anti-government protesters took control of key intersections in Bangkok on Monday, blockading major roads into the heart of the downtown districts.

The protesters vowed to 'shut down' the city of 12 million people, but life continued normally in most places. The majority of businesses and shops remained open. Most protestors remained peaceful. Their primary objective is the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck.

Comment: The continuing effectiveness of the protests indicates that the opposition movement has the backing of the King or of a powerful faction in the royal household. If royal pressure is strong, Yingluck will be forced to resign and to disband her populist party before the February elections.

If not, then elections will be held as scheduled next month and Yingluck will almost certainly be returned to office.

Iran: Iran's nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, said a bill moving through Iran's parliament will force the country to increase its uranium enrichment. The bill has received support from 218 of the parliament's 290 members.

Comment: The bill has two key points. First it reaffirms that Iran has the right to enrich uranium, as the US and the West have accepted. Second, it directs that the Iranian executive enrich uranium as much as the parliament directs.

Iranian hard-liners, who constitute a majority of the parliament, have as much interest in blocking the new nuclear agreement as do hardliners in the US Congress.

The prospect of limited relief from US sanctions starting in February might be enough to restrain the hardliners for six months. The time term for the agreement begins on 20 January. Relaxed sanctions for six months constitute a major achievement for President Ruhani.

Egypt: On 14 and 15 January Egyptians will vote on a new constitution. The security chief on Monday warned supporters of the ousted Islamist president Mursi that troops guarding polls will deal with anyone attempting to disrupt the vote with force.

The new constitution would replace the constitution signed into law by Mursi a little more than a year ago after it also was approved in a referendum. The new constitution would strip out Islamist language and strengthen state institutions that defied Mursi: the military, the police and the judiciary.

Comment: This will be the third referendum on a constitution since the overthrow of Mubarak in January 2011. It also will be the sixth time Egyptians have been invited to vote since then.

The best indicator that most Egyptians are not ready for modern democracy is that the majority of those who voted approved the incumbent government's position in all the referenda and elections. Whoever was in office won the election or referendum.

Those outcomes are characteristic of pre-modern, if not tribal, behavior. The strongman, defined as the man in power, always wins Egyptian elections. General al-Sisi probably will be the next president of Egypt if he chooses to run. Alternatively, anyone he supports will be the next president of Egypt, by a popular majority to be sure.

South Sudan: Following tactical setbacks, rebel leader Riek Machar will no longer insist on the release of political prisoners as a condition to a ceasefire.

Comment: With Ugandan military assistance and political support from African states, President Salva Kiir seems likely to prevail in suppressing this rebellion. Nevertheless, Machar vowed the fighting would continue. Machar wants a ceasefire before he loses all his fighters.

End of NightWatch


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