The Rosett Report

The Rosett Report

North Korea’s Hostage Payola

November 9th, 2014 - 1:56 am

America has just welcomed home two of its own, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller, both of whom had been thrown in the slammer while visiting North Korea, and sentenced there to years of hard labor for acts that Pyongyang’s regime deemed “hostile.” We can celebrate their safe return.

But it would be folly to celebrate the manner in which it was accomplished. To bring them home, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper flew to North Korea, carrying what was reportedly a message from President Obama to North Korean tyrant Kim Jong Un. State Department officials have been telling the press that Clapper’s mission involved no quid pro quo. A news story in the Wall Street Journal carries the  subhead: “U.S. Didn’t Give Anything to Secure Release.”

That’s absurd. The visit to North Korea by America’s intelligence chief was, in itself, a form of tribute, in which the U.S. superpower stooped to beg a favor from Pyongyang. It was a ransom. A payola for North Korea’s  hostage politics.

North Korea is an aggressive totalitarian state, which the U.S. — quite rightly — has never dignified with formal diplomatic ties and recognition. When high-ranking U.S. officials — or even former officials — go to Pyongyang to ask for something, they are supplicants. That is a concession to North Korea, all by itself, and in that spirit Pyongyang has long sought ways to procure visits by high-ranking American officials — or even former officials. That does not mean that North Korea’s regime harbors a latent affection for Americans. It means that Pyongyang benefits when high-ranking Americans are cast in the position of paying tribute.

Thus did North Korea’s previous tyrant, Kim Jong Il, back in 2000, demand a visit from President Bill Clinton as the price of a potential missile deal (Clinton did not go, Madeleine Albright and Wendy Sherman went instead). Thus in 2009 did Kim again demand a visit from Bill Clinton (that time, Clinton went) as the preferred emissary to come to Pyongyang to pick up two American employees of former Vice President Al Gore’s Current TV station, Euna Lee and Laura Ling — who had been so foolish as wander across the border from China into North Korea, where they were arrested and sentenced to 12 years at hard labor. Clinton’s visit was the visible price of their “pardon” by Kim.

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News is piling up right now about crunch time for the Iran nuclear talks; ISIS, Ebola, Russian warplanes buzzing NATO, and upheaval in Burkina Faso (where this week protesters set fire to the Ouagadougou parliament, the longtime president tweeted his resignation and fled the the country, the military stepped in, and fallout of the upheaval may entail problems for U.S. anti-terror operations in West Africa). What next?

Call me impulsive, but I had a twitch today that amid these crises, it’s about time for North Korea to throw its hat into the ring — with its next nuclear test.

No, I don’t have any inside information. Kim Jong Un does not have me on speed dial. But I have been wading through stacks of material on North Korea’s assorted bouts of nuclear talks and nuclear tests, missile programs, human rights violations, and the current North Korean “charm offensive” — in which North Korean diplomats have been lauding North Korea as a cornucopia of communal joys, while Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency has been promising that North Korea will “Mercilessly Shatter U.S. and Its Followers ‘Human Rights’ Campaign.”

And I got to wondering what had happened with that North Korean threat issued in March, when Pyongyang released a statement that it would not rule out “a new form of nuclear test.” Shortly after that, North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations held a press conference in New York, at which he confirmed that there was another test in the offing. Asked what the “new form” might be, he said “Wait and see,”

Since then, as far as North Korean nuclear testing, it’s been all wait, and no see. Satellite photos of North Korea’s Punggye-ri test site this spring did show what appeared to be preparations for a fourth nuclear test (the previous three having been carried out in 2006, 2009 and 2013). Analysts say North Korea appears ready to carry out its next illicit nuclear detonation. There have also been signs that North Korea is expanding its uranium enrichment facilities. And last week the commander of U.S. Forces in Korea, General Curtis Scaparrotti, said at a press conference that he believes North Korea has the capability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead and the technology to deliver it on a missile.

All of which is dire. But most of the U.S. fuss over North Korea in recent times has centered on such dramas as Kim’s fit of avunculicide in late 2013, the imprisonment of American tourists, the mysterious disappearance and reappearance this fall of the limping young tyrant Kim, and the damning United Nations report accusing North Korea’s leadership of crimes against humanity, to which North Korea has been responding with the diplomatic and propaganda blitz now dubbed a charm offensive.

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Every aggressive, internationally sanctioned despotism with nuclear ambitions needs a few tricks in its diplomatic tool kit, and one of these — when the going gets rough — is the so-called “diplomatic charm offensive.”

This season, as anointed last week by the New York Times, the big charmer is North Korea. Not that there’s anything in this “charm offensive” that’s actually charming. But North Korea — with its record of rogue missile and nuclear tests, abductions, counterfeiting, threats to destroy its enemies with “seas of fire,” generally taciturn diplomats and whatnot — has set the bar so low that anything remotely resembling normal diplomatic activity (in form, if not function) tends to be hailed abroad as a promising sign. So, when North Korea sent a high-level delegation to South Korea earlier this month, freed one of the three Americans it has most recently been holding in prison, and sent forth some diplomats from its United Nations mission in New York to field questions from policy makers and the press, this outreach inspired such headlines as the Times’s “The Latest North Korean Mystery: A Diplomatic Charm Offensive.

What’s North Korea up to? The obvious guess is that Pyongyang is trying to deflect criticism of its atrocious human rights record, as laid out in a detailed and damning report released this past March by a special UN Commission of Inquiry, led by Australian jurist Michael Kirby. This commission accused North Korea’s government, at the highest levels, of crimes against humanity, and warned North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un that he could be held responsible and referred to the international justice system. There is now a push at the UN by the European Union and Japan to urge the Security Council to refer Kim himself to the International Criminal Court. Kim evidently does not like this idea, and his diplomatic envoys have been deployed in a campaign to stop any such referral. If you’d like to sample some of this North Korean “charm,” here’s a link to a debate this past week at a UN side event in New York, hosted by the Jacob Blaustein Institute and the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea — in which Kirby goes toe-to-toe with a North Korean diplomat over the issue of the Kim regime’s crimes against humanity.

Clearly this dust-up over human rights is of particular concern to Pyongyang. But my guess is that there’s even more going on here — and it has to do with Iran. Recall that just last year, Iran launched its own charm offensive. At the 2013 annual opening of the UN General Assembly, the newly inaugurated President Hasan Rouhani replaced the boorish former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. At Rouhani’s side was the smooth-talking, U.S.-schooled veteran diplomat and new foreign minister, Javad Zarif. It was all considered so charming that two months later, in Nov., 2013, the Obama administration swooned its way into an interim agreement for the U.S. plus five other world powers to engage in nuclear talks with Iran, aiming for a grand comprehensive agreement to be hammered out within six months. Predictably enough (and some of us did predict this) the talks have dragged on for almost a year now (with the original July deadline extended to Nov. 24) and Iran’s regime has done quite well for itself out of the process — refusing to give up its nuclear infrastructure, while dangling before heavily invested U.S. and European diplomats the bait of a deal. Some sanctions on Iran have been suspended, some are now more loosely enforced, and Tehran — world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism — has been courted by western businesses, while its foreign minister, Zarif, has been wooed by western negotiators.

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From ISIS to Ebola, there’s so much misery in the news right now that I hesitate to belabor the downside of Venezuela winning one of the 10 rotating seats on the 15-member United Nations Security Council — as happened on Thursday, thanks to a General Assembly vote of 181 in favor, with 10 abstaining. Surely it’s obvious what’s horrifying about this picture. Venezuela is the oil-rich home to a thug regime that brutalizes its democratic dissidents and pals around with Cuba, Russia and Iran. Venezuela’s ruler, President Nicolas Maduro, continues to live down to the despotic and virulently anti-American legacy of his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez. That’s not the kind of government needed on the UN’s leading body, the high council entrusted with authorizing the use of force, promoting peace, imposing sanctions, approving applications for UN membership and recommending the next secretary-general.

Or, as explained in a rhapsody of understatement by the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, “Unfortunately, Venezuela’s conduct at the UN has run counter to the spirit of the UN charter and its violations of rights at home are at odds with the Charter’s letter.”

But let us try to look on the bright side, or at least dredge deep enough to find in this muck a few trace elements of good news. Here are three potential benefits to Venezuela winning  a two-year term, from 2015-2016, on the Security Council:

1) Convenient poster child. Not since the General Assembly elected Qaddafi’s Libya to the UN Security Council, for the years 2009-2010, has this particular UN process produced such a colorful case of utter farce.  For the next two years, Venezuela can provide a convenient shorthand for what’s wrong with both the Security Council and the vaunted “international community” — the 193-member General Assembly, in which 181 nations voted to install Venezuela on the Security Council, while another 10 wildly independent thinkers were so bold as to abstain. Of course, despotic governments on the Security Council are nothing new. Russia and China hold two of the permanent five veto-wielding seats, along with the U.S., Britain and France. But somehow that longtime inner circle of moral equivalency has become a standard piece of the landscape. It is left to the non-permanent members to endow the council with its flashier credentials of the hour — and for summing up the scene, Venezuela is an excellent choice.

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The New York Sun proposes awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Hong Kong, where demonstrators have been defying Beijing in order to demand their promised democratic rights. Great idea — but it is Hong Kong that would dignify the prize, not the other way around. Hong Kong’s people have acted with courage and grace in the face of one of the world’s most powerful dictatorships.

Their grievances are quite real. These demonstrations cap 30 years of betrayal, first by Britain and then by China. As I recount in an article for the Weekly Standard, in a post-colonial era that saw other British colonies gain independence, Hong Kong was turned over in 1997 to China. The people of Hong Kong never had a say. This was supposed to be mitigated by the terms of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, in which China — under Deng Xiaoping’s promise of “One Country, Two Systems” — agreed that Hong Kong would enjoy a “high degree of autonomy” and democratic self-rule in all matters except foreign policy and defense. But genuine democracy did not materialize. Instead, after years of evasion and delay, China this summer produced the plan: in 2017, Hong Kong’s people would be allowed to vote for their chief executive — with the cynical proviso that Beijing would, de facto, choose the candidates.

Hong Kong’s people rejected this in the only way left to them. They took to the streets. They did this in the long shadow of China’s bloody suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen uprising. They refused to kowtow to the dictates of China’s Communist Party (which keeps China’s own Nobel Peace laureate, Liu Xiabo, imprisoned). They protested peacefully. They did their best to keep order, even when pro-Beijing goons descended on some of them last Friday. They did not riot. They did not loot. They did not threaten violence. They cleaned up after themselves, and asked again and again for their rights.

What accounts for this movement? Isn’t Hong Kong supposed to be a center of crass commercialism, its people dedicated to making money, as the apolitical wards of first Britain and now China?

Obviously, there’s more to it.

The world has had little interest in recent times in the argument that capitalism helps foster democracy. Free market ideas are broadly out of fashion. But I would suggest that free markets have a great deal to do with the admirable culture on display in Hong Kong.

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With the United Nations General Assembly’s 69th annual opening about to begin its “High-Level Week” of summits and speeches in New York, the State Department has been pushing out material highlighting the UN’s core role in the Obama administration’s foreign policy. Among the most avid of these endorsements is an article released Sept. 17 by the State Department, on its official Dipnote blog, headlined: “UNGA 69: Why the UN Matters More Than Ever.”

Near breathless in its enthusiasm for the”diplomatic marvel” of the UN General Assembly opening, the article begins by reeling off a few facts and figures about this event, including a statement that: “World leaders and representatives from 194 countries will come together to work on an agenda packed with burning issues… .”

Whoa. Let’s replay that tape. Did State really mean to say “194 countries”? There are only 193 countries in the UN. So, what is this 194th country that State was referring to?

Wondering if there might be some story here of a new UN member state that even the UN did not know about, I emailed the State Department to ask what this mysterious 194th country might be.

A State Department official wrote back to say, oops, the article “should have read ’193 countries.’ ” The State official added: “The drafter of the blog put in the wrong number, and we unfortunately did not catch the error before it was posted to the web.”

Well, we all make mistakes. But this mistake is not small. For years now, under the slogan “Palestine 194,” the Palestinian Authority has been campaigning to be admitted to the UN as the 194th member state. Officially, the U.S. is opposed to any such admission, unless and until the Palestinians have kept their promise to negotiate a viable peace with Israel. But within the Obama administration there has been a lot of foot-dragging on this policy, accompanied by attempts to erode it. This has included administration pressure on Congress to waive laws that forbid U.S. funding to any multilateral body (notably, to date, UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) that admits the Palestinians to full membership before they have kept their promise of peace.

When the State Department puts out an article describing the UN General Assembly opening as bringing together “194 countries,” it looks less like a mistake than a sly attempt to rewrite official U.S. policy by referring to the Palestinians as the 194th UN member state. Especially when the State Department, instead of correcting its mistake, blasts out the same article a few days later, including the reference to “194 countries,” in a list of “Highlights of the UN 69th General Assembly High-Level Week.”

But OK, let’s give State the benefit of the doubt, and believe that it was just a bad week for taxpayer-funded diplomatic bloggers doing arithmetic. This particular mistake still looks terrible.

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Crying Need for UNRWA to Come Clean on Gaza

September 7th, 2014 - 9:22 pm

What’s worse than a United Nations agency that provides massive welfare and support services to a Palestinian enclave run by terrorists?

Well, how about having that same agency run by a loquacious Swiss national who apparently believes that UN “neutrality” consists of blaming Israel for the local mayhem, while ignoring the terrorists?

That’s pretty much the scene right now at UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Following the latest bout of war between Israel and the Hamas terrorists who rule Gaza, UNRWA’s Swiss commissioner-general, Pierre Krahenbuhl, has been talking and tweeting about a “crying need for financial assistance to help the people of Gaza.” Krahenbuhl has also been accusing Israel of war crimes, and calling for Israel to be immediately and thoroughly investigated and called to account (as I detailed in “The U.N.’s Grotesque Gaza Inquiry,” the UN Human Rights Council is delighted to oblige). Krahenbuhl wants to address “underlying causes” — by which he apparently means Israel’s attempts to protect itself against Hamas rocket and mortar bombardments and miles of attack tunnels that were dug (right under UNRWA’s nose) from Gaza into Israel.

It appears to have escaped Krahenbuhl’s attention that Israel ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005, and that this enclave so pervasively serviced by UNRWA is run by Palestinian terrorists — variously trained and bankrolled by the likes of Iran and Qatar. The priorities of Hamas are not the well-being of women and children, or peace and prosperity, or anything of the kind. Hamas specializes in repressive rule (including summary executions), thrives on cultivating hate, and prefers pouring resources into making war on Israel (which Hamas aspires to obliterate), rather than cultivating Gaza as a productive entrepot on the Mediterranean.

UNRWA’s Krahenbuhl runs an agency that is troubling enough for its policies of extending refugee status plus a cornucopia of welfare benefits to succeeding generations of Palestinians — fostering a vast and chronically aggrieved population permanently on the dole. UNRWA has kept itself in business for 64 years by creating its own ever-expanding clientele — now numbering more than 5 million “refugees.” Does Krahenbuhl’s brief also include inserting himself into the complex Middle East scene as an arbiter of policy, war and the complexities of seeking peace in the Middle East?

What’s urgently needed from Krahenbuhl and his colleagues is not a continuing barrage of biased pronouncements, but a full and transparent explanation of how it happened that while Hamas was amassing weapons and building terrorist attack tunnels from Gaza, UNRWA was demanding more resources, including construction materials, for the enclave. Were UNRWA’s top officials clueless? Were they complicit?  And if Krahenbuhl wishes to level blame and discuss “underlying causes,” when do we hear from him about the misery, brutality and terror inflicted on Gaza, and its neighbors, by Hamas?


The Banality of Mass Public Executions in Gaza

August 23rd, 2014 - 12:46 am

Just another episode of Hamas rule in Gaza, as — quoting Reuters here — “Hamas-led gunmen in Gaza executed 18 Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel on Friday, accelerating a crackdown on suspected informers after Israeli forces tracked down and killed the three senior Hamas commanders.”

How did these Hamas-led executions proceed? This from the New York Times: “”Masked gunmen in matching black T-shirts and pants paraded seven of the suspected collaborators, handcuffed and hooded, to their deaths before a boisterous crowd outside a downtown mosque after the Friday prayer, in a highly theatrical presentation. Photographs showed a pair of militants leaning over a doomed man on his knees against a wall, and masses of men and boys cheering and clamoring for a better view.”  (Reuters has a video clip here, including the crowd and the bloodied street).

Thus runs the course of “revolutionary justice” in Gaza — which is how this process was labeled on the website Al Majd, which is described by the Times as “managed by the Internal Security Service of the Hamas government that ran Gaza until June” (when the Hamas government morphed into the “National Consensus Government” of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah).

Were there fair and impartial trials of the accused? Were they provided with lawyers, permitted to mount a defense, treated with dignity? Was their right to privacy respected? Did the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross immediately pronounce themselves appalled? Did the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, decry this mass public use of the death penalty? Did the UN Relief and Works Agency, a megaphone for Gaza, even mention these horrific executions in its daily Situation Report? Did UNRWA’s Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl, formerly of the ICRC, self-appointed arbiter of legalities in Gaza, issue an outraged denunciation of these mass executions?

You know the answer. No. There was none of that. This mass public execution of Palestinians, by Palestinians — according to Reuters, the third round of executions of suspected collaborators just this month — aroused no global outcry. The story played in the New York Times and on Reuters as a tale — albeit with gruesome touches — of Hamas defending itself against Israel. As the Times headline framed it: “Executions in Gaza Are a Warning to Spies.”

Yes, these executions are certainly a warning to spies. But how, precisely, are they less barbaric than, say, the executions of ISIS? Forget even a trace of humanity. Before a rowdy crowd, men in handcuffs and hoods are deliberately paraded by masked gunmen, herded against a wall en masse, and shot to death. For what? For alleged betrayal of a terrorist group that seized power in Gaza in 2007, in a bloody coup against other Palestinians, and uses schoolchildren and hospital patients as human shields for its attacks on Israel.

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Hamas, Terror Tunnels and Timing?

August 12th, 2014 - 12:22 am

In connection with the discovery that the Hamas terrorists of Gaza had dug an elaborate network of attack tunnels into Israel, a number of Israeli news outlets have been reporting that the date set by Hamas for a major attack was Rosh Hashanah — the beginning of the Jewish New Year, which this year falls on Sept. 24. If true, that date is intriguing for reasons extending beyond the Jewish New Year.

The reports of a plot timed to coincide with Rosh Hashanah are unverified, anonymously sourced to Israeli security services, and most seem to track back to a dispatch by  Israel’s Hebrew-language Maariv Daily.  Let’s treat that date and the reports of a Rosh Hashanah plot with caution, pending clear confirmation. But the extensive tunnel network certainly does suggest something major was in the works. And veteran defense correspondent Bill Gertz, who has a record of being well-sourced and well-informed on such matters, ran with the Sept. 24 date in a recent report that  ”information that Israeli Defense Forces reportedly obtained from captured Hamas fighters revealed that the group was planning to use several Gaza tunnels that extend under Israeli territory for a major attack timed with the beginning of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, on Sept. 24.”

What significant event, other than Rosh Hashanah, falls this year on Sept. 24?

That would be the opening in New York of the General Debate of the United Nations General Assembly, scheduled this year to run from Sept. 24-Oct.1. It’s less a debate than a drumroll of speeches by presidents and prime ministers, but we all know the scene. Officially, the General Assembly opening jamboree starts earlier in the month (this year, on Sept. 16). But the big show, the main drama, is the General Debate. Heads of state from around the globe converge on the UN headquarters, bringing gridlocked chaos to midtown Manhattan. The first morning routinely features the UN secretary-general and the U.S. president. Other speakers get shuffled around, but last year, the opening day of the debate also included Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, an official face of the Tehran regime that has been supplying Hamas with terrorist training and weapons.

As far as I am aware, the speaking lineup for this year’s General Debate has not yet been released. But let’s recall that when the opening of the General Debate in 2012 fell on another Jewish holy day, Yom Kippur, it was cause for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to skip the opening day of speeches, and arrive later in the week. What might be his plans this year to cope with the UN kicking off the General Debate on Rosh Hashanah, I have not yet seen. But there is at least some likelihood that he would come after the opening day.

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Rules of War, UN-Style

August 2nd, 2014 - 10:53 pm

Among top officials of the United Nations, the conflict between Israel and the Hamas terrorists of Gaza has inspired plenty of commentary, much of it ranging from effectively anti-Semitic to utterly imbecilic. But for an astounding mix of those two qualities, it’s hard to beat the comment this week of the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay — summed up by the Breitbart headline, “UN Condemns Israel’s Latest War Crime: Not Sharing Iron Dome With Hamas.”

To be fair, there’s a bit of shorthand in that headline, since Pillay’s condemnation in the matter of not sharing Iron Dome with terrorists was aimed not only at Israel, but at the U.S. The Breitbart report draws on Pillay’s remarks Thursday to reporters in Geneva, as quoted by the Israeli news service Having denounced Israel up, down and sideways, Pillay turned her attention to the U.S.:  ”They have not only provided the heavy weaponry which is now being used by Israel in Gaza but they’ve also provided almost $1 billion in providing the ‘Iron Domes’ to protect Israel from rocket attacks…. But no such protection has been provided to Gazans against the shelling.”

Even for the UN, this is a novel notion of “proportionality” — that a country whose ally is under attack by terrorists should even the battlefield by providing defensive military technology to the terrorists. But Navi Pillay is now rounding out a four year tenure as the UN’s “principal human rights official,” so presumably we should take seriously what she says.

What she’s basically advocating is a redistribution of military technology, to ensure that terrorists have the same defenses as the country they are attacking. By these lights, we stand on the threshold of a fascinating new era in warfare. There’s no reason this new UN principle should stop with deploring the failure of the U.S. and Israel to provide an Iron Dome to Hamas. Why not provide the same defenses to Iran’s terrorist mascots in Lebanon, Hezbollah? They, too, might benefit from such a system when they launch their next attack on Israel.

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