North Korea: Baby steps back from the brink
Wednesday, June 12 – After more than a month of ominous silence that followed threats to launch nuclear weapons, North Korea appears to be making modest motions toward easing tensions on the divided peninsula.
Pyongyang broke its self-imposed radio silence last week in proposing a low-level meeting with South Koreans at Panmunjom on Sunday. The regime of neophyte leader Kim Jong Un also restored an emergency communications line it had unilaterally severed in March, a move seen as a goodwill gesture toward returning to a more normal state of relations between north and south.
Kim’s government was outraged by U.S.-South Korean military maneuvers in March and April that Pyongyang’s state-run media cast as preparations for war against North Korea. In escalating displays of pique, Kim’s regime warned of imminent missile launches to take out enemy weapons sites, cut the communications line and shuttered a jointly operated industrial park on the edge of the demilitarized zone that had provided a significant source of hard currency for cash-strapped Pyongyang.
There were no guarantees that Sunday’s tentative meeting would lead to more, but Seoul’s minister for unification affairs has proposed a Wednesday gathering at the senior ministerial level – what would be the first high-level contact between the governments in six years.
Hopes were also raised by North Korea’s sudden move out of the diplomatic deep-freeze that suspended six-party talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear programs might be resuscitated if the inter-Korea mending of ties shows progress. It has been almost six years since the United States, China, Russia, Japan, North Korea and South Korea sat down to work on a formula to aid Pyongyang in exchange for phasing out nuclear production.
Kim’s late father pulled his country out of the six-party talks in 2009 in protest of U.N. censure and threatened sanctions for North Korea’s test of an intercontinental ballistic missile in defiance of U.N. warnings. Analysts say any prospects for resuming those talks depends on Pyongyang and Seoul establishing more civil relations.
Iranians to choose a president from a slate full of status quo
Friday, June 14 -- Under the watchful eye of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iranians vote for a new president Friday from a slate of candidates that are only marginally distinguishable from one another.
Genuine advocates of reform and escape from international isolation were all struck from the ballot by Khamenei’s Guardian Council. Among those nixed for no stated reason was former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the only surviving leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution besides Khamenei but vilified by the supreme leader’s religious watchdogs as complicit in “sedition.”
The accusation of inciting rebellion stems from Rafsanjani’s criticism of the religious clique’s brutal crackdown on demonstrators of the Green Movement who vociferously protested the suspect 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Losing candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi remain under house arrest and shut out of this year’s politicking.
That leaves voters to choose from eight men -- six of them squarely in line behind Khamenei and two who have given modest hints of wiser economic and foreign policies. The perceived moderates are former nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani, who has Rafsanjani’s endorsement, and Stanford-educated Mohammad Reza Aref, who has the backing of another respected former president, Mohammad Khatami.
Even if Rowhani and Aref were to align, as urged by those tired of economic hardship and sanctions censuring Iran’s nuclear ambitions, they are reported to be trailing three Khamenei loyalists.
The Iran’s View analytical website reported Friday that Tehran Mayor Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf led the pack in “unofficial but reliable polls,” with the hardliner drawing about 30% of voters, followed by chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and senior Khamenei advisor Ali Akbar Velayati with about 11% each. Rowhani and Aref had less than 8% each, the website said, making it unlikely either would advance to the second round, assuming no single candidate wins more than 50% Friday.
Khamenei backed Ahmadinejad four years ago but the two have since fallen out over the president’s failed efforts to enhance the powers of the presidency. Khamenei has voiced no preference this time, an indication, analysts say, that he plans to continue diminishing the influence and authority of the elected office.
Any one of the frontrunners would be expected to hold fast to the government’s adversarial relationship with Washington and the West, holding out little prospect of an easing of tensions over the conflict in Syria or Tehran’s suspected development of nuclear weapons.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times