South Korean Concerns
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service briefed the intelligence committee of the National Assembly to expect more North Korean ballistic missile launches and missile tests by year’s end. The Service told the committee that it has not detected indicators of launch or test preparations, but it warned that both are possible.
The Service repeated its judgment that North Korea could detonate a nuclear explosion any time that leader Kim Jong Un makes the decision.
|North Korean artillery massed on the beach last summer in a live fire
exercise, to demonstrate its power to destroy the Americans…
The message to the lawmakers is that the National Intelligence Service cannot be confident of providing additional warning about missile launches or nuclear tests. This general warning has not changed in months, but the Service is conveying that it is not complacent about the North Korean threat.
This condition is the result of North Korean deception practices, the mobility of its newest ballistic missiles and the lull since September that has allowed preparations to occur at a measured pace.
As for the warning, the development of the North Korean strategic force remains incomplete and in need of additional and new tests. It has not conducted a full range intercontinental ballistic missile flight. It also has not conducted an atmospheric test of its nuclear warhead. It has not tested the warhead and the missile as a weapon system.
China hasn’t followed-through on it’s promise to thwart North Korean ambitions to the extent that the US (and the rest of the world) hoped that they would. This means that the Norks will move forward and risks a general war and possibly a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula this winter. You’ve heard the warning on this blog previously and nothing has happened which would change that assessment.
The North Korean Workers’ Party daily, Rodong Sinmun, reported that Chinese Special Envoy Song Tao laid a floral basket at the Friendship Tower on 20 November. North Korean press said Song paid respects at the mausoleum of Kim Il-sung and Kim Chong-il. He departed Pyongyang later in the day.
The People’s Republic of China built the Friendship Tower in Pyongyang as a monument to the 22,000 Chinese Peoples Volunteers who died in the Korean War. Mao Zedong’s eldest son died in the War and is buried in the Tower.
Korean and Chinese leaders say that the Tower also is a tribute to the enduring friendship between the Communist Party of China and the Korean Workers’ Party. Thus, this act of reverence is consistent with Song’s mission of ensuring that party-to-party communications remain open.
Global Times said that Song consolidated ties. In the 20 November edition of the quasi-official Chinese daily Global Times, an editorial read, “Pyongyang highly praised the achievements of the 19th National Congress of the CPC. The two sides agreed to enhance party-to-party exchanges and bring the relations of the two countries forward.”
After reviewing the issues in the North Korean nuclear confrontation, the editorial concluded,
“The escalating confrontation between Washington and Pyongyang has consumed both sides. The US stressed that all options are on the table, but it faces impossible choices if it resorts to force. Some even believe Washington does not have the option of launching a preemptive military strike against North Korea. Therefore, seeking a diplomatic breakthrough is an urgent task for Washington.”
“As for Pyongyang, dragging the nuclear crisis indefinitely does no good. Making moves to end international sanctions is far more rational than continuing its nuclear and missile program.”
“If we view Song’s North Korea visit against this background, its strategic significance will prove to be multidimensional. The visit has consolidated China-North Korea ties and guided all sides to think about the peninsula situation.”
Global Times regularly provides useful insights about the thinking or views of the Party leadership or key members of the leadership that they do not approve for official publication. The sub rosa message is that Song achieved no breakthrough, but stabilized China’s relations with North Korea.
Song measured the state of party-to-party ties and state-to-state ties. They are not as good as some think, nor as bad as other think, according to the editorial. Nonetheless, state-to-state ties were described as at low ebb.
Song determined that communications are open between the Communist Party of China and the Korean Workers’ Party, even though the two parties disagree about the nuclear issue. That implies General Secretary Xi could speak with Chairman Kim as a fellow party leader.
Song determined that Kim Jong Un will not compromise on the nuclear issue under the sanctions imposed by the United Nations.
The editorial’s concluding paragraph states only that Song consolidated ties and caused observers to think about the Korea problem. That is faint praise, but important achievements for China.
Song’s visit signals that the Chinese leadership decided to prevent the total isolation of North Korea. The Chinese leaders appear to have concluded that North Korean isolation would not be conducive to reducing tension or creating conditions for talks. They disagree with the US position on this issue. The party-to-party convention enables the Chinese leaders to reach out to North Korea without reneging on China’s commitments as a member of the UN.
Xi’s dual suspension proposal, supported by the Russians, is that North Korea should suspend its nuclear and missile activities in return for a suspension of large-scale US and Allied exercises. The dual track is to pursue in parallel negotiations to eliminate nuclear weapons from the Peninsula and negotiations to create a peace mechanism.
The editorial said that “seeking a diplomatic breakthrough is an urgent task for Washington.” Unspoken was the comment that it is not so for China.
With this visit, China has put more distance between it and the US in handling North Korea. It also has weakened the cumulative effects of the sanctions regime and shown that it will not abandon North Korea.
On 20 November, Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government called on the international community to intervene and help lift sanctions imposed by the central government in Baghdad in retaliation for the 25 September referendum on Kurdish independence.
“The restrictive policies adopted by Baghdad against Erbil are in violation of Iraq’s obligations and responsibilities under international and humanitarian law,” the KRG statement said. “We call on the international community to intercede in urging Baghdad authorities to lift the embargo, without condition, on international flights.”
The statement said the federal government is implementing collective punishment against the Kurdish Region, including reducing its share of the 2018 draft budget and continuing the international flight embargo.
The Baghdad government is implementing a course of action that essentially will negate the autonomy of the Kurdistan Region. Foreign investments in Kurdistan that are not approved by Baghdad are threatened.
For the record. Iraq’s Supreme Federal Court ruled on 20 November that the 25 September Kurdish independence referendum was unconstitutional and the results are void. There is no appeal from this ruling. Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani accepted the annulment of the referendum.
The Kurds don’t have much choice but to go along since the US backs the Baghdad government.
On 20 November, Turkish army soldiers and Syrian Kurdish militiamen exchanged fire in Syria. Kurdish militia fighters fired five mortar rounds at an observation post at Darat Izza in Aleppo Province, staffed by Turkish troops, the Anadolu news agency said. No casualties were reported and the mortars did not hit their target, Anadolu reported.
In response, the Turkish army fired artillery rounds towards Kurdish militia-held positions around the town of Afrin. The Turks are committed to “liberating” Afrin (from the Kurds).
All Turkish activities in Syria have a central focus and that is the elimination/death of Kurds. It’s been a national pastime in Turkey for many decades. Nothing new here except that they’re doing it in Syria.
This appears to be the first exchange of fire reported in open sources at the Turkish post at Darat Izza since the Turks deployed soldiers to activate the Idlib de-escalation zone in mid-October. Idlib is the fourth and last zone to be activated. Prior to the Turkish deployment into Syria, exchanges of fire between the Syrian Kurds and Turkish army elements occurred regularly across the border from Afrin, Syria, into Turkey.
From the observation post at Dara Izza, the Turks can harass and attack the Syrian Kurds from a new direction, inside Syria. The Turks intend to exploit every opportunity their presence in Syria provides to fight the Kurds. President Erdogan has stated openly and repeatedly that Turkey intends to liberate Afrin Canton from the Syrian Kurds after the Idlib de-escalation zone is stable.
The Turks consider the terror threat from the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds to be far greater than the terror threat from al-Qaida associated groups, including the al-Nusra Front (to whom they are and have been allied), which leads the jihadist groups that control Idlib city. Turkish forces in the Idlib zone appear to be cooperating with the jihadists who hold Idlib.
While most interested states have begun looking past the civil war towards Syrian reconstruction, the Turks are determined to keep on fighting in northern Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported “large” convoys of Turkish troops entered Syria on 18 November to create “observation posts” that essentially surround Afrin Canton.
The level of fighting in Syria has begun to rise again. Islamic State fighters have shown that they remain a threat to security in the east. A suicide bombing attack killed 20 people near al Bukamal on the 20th.
Near Damascus, two opposition groups, Ahrar al Sham and elements of the Free Syrian Army, launched an offensive on Friday, the 17th. After some initial gains, the Syrian army counter-attacked with “overwhelming force” and smashed the offensive, killing or wounding 100 opposition fighters, according to the independent news outlet Al Masdar.
The activation of the de-escalation zones reduced the fighting for the hundreds of opposition groups that signed ceasefire agreements with the Russians or the Turks, who staff a joint monitoring center.
However, many jihadist groups refused to sign. They include the al Nusra front and its allies in Idlib and groups that fought for the Islamic State. They and the Syrian army benefitted from the decline in violence and now appear to be rejoining the fight. The civil war continues in some pockets
More on Turkey vs Syrian Kurds
Turkey remains opposed to Syrian Kurdish participation in the Syrian National Congress. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov who said that the principals agreed on all the key issues. Lavrov was being optimistic. On 20 November, Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said that Turkey considers the issue of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to be a “primary sensitivity” for Turkey. He also said Turkey rejects the participation of the YPG in any meeting that seeks a solution in Syria and that the Russians and Iranians are aware of this.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said in relation to the Syrian conflict, “No one has the right to expect from us to consent to a terror organization’s presence at the table. Turkey’s stance on this issue is clear.”
On 22 November at Sochi, Russian President Putin will host President Erdogan and Iranian President Rouhani at a conference on Syria. The Russians are looking for support for their proposal for a Syrian National Dialogue Congress to jumpstart the political settlement process that the UN special envoy has fumbled. Turkey is playing the spoiler by raising obstacles to the process.
The Russians are going to considerable lengths to achieve progress in ending the fighting. They need to stop the costs of military operations and to create conditions that will attract international commitments to Syria’s reconstruction. Putin’s mention of the UN undermines a key complaint of the Syrian opposition groups that the UN is not a party to the Congress.