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Bottom Line Up Front:
3. North Korea
From Fox News (Taliban):
The U.S. is actively considering talks with elements of the Taliban, the armed Islamist group that once ruled Afghanistan and sheltered Al Qaeda, in a major policy shift that would have been unthinkable a few months ago.
Senior White House and military officials believe that engaging some levels of the Taliban — while excluding top leaders — could help reverse a pronounced downward spiral in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. Both countries have been destabilized by a recent wave of violence.
The outreach is a draft recommendation in a classified White House assessment of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, according to senior Bush administration officials. The officials said that the recommendation calls for the talks to be led by the Afghan central government, but with the active participation of the U.S.
The idea is supported by Gen. David Petraeus, who will assume responsibility this week for U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Gen. Petraeus used a similar approach in Iraq, where a U.S. push to enlist Sunni tribes in the fight against Al Qaeda in Iraq helped sharply reduce the country's violence. Gen. Petraeus earlier this month publicly endorsed talks with less extreme Taliban elements.
From NY Times (Mosul):
A new Iraqi military offensive is under way in this still violent northern city, but the worry is not only the insurgents who remain strong here. American commanders are increasingly concerned that Mosul could degenerate into a larger battleground over the fragile Iraqi state itself.
The problems are old but risk spilling out violently here and now. The central government in Baghdad has sent troops to quell the insurgency here, while also aiming at what it sees as a central obstacle to both nationhood and its own power: the semiautonomous Kurdish region in the north and the Kurds’ larger ambitions to expand areas under their control.
The Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is squeezing out Kurdish units of the Iraqi Army from Mosul, sending the national police and army from Baghdad and trying to forge alliances with Sunni Arab hard-liners in the province, who have deep-seated feuds with the Kurdistan Regional Government led by Massoud Barzani.
The Kurds are resisting, underscoring yet again the depth of ethnic and sectarian divisions here and the difficulty of creating a united Iraq even when overall violence is down. Tension has risen to the point that last week American commanders held a series of emergency meetings with the Iraqi government and Kurdish officials, seeking to head off violence essentially between factions of the Iraqi government.
“It’s the perfect storm against the old festering background,” warned Brig. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, who oversees Nineveh and Kirkuk Provinces and the Kurdish region.
Worry is so high that the American military has already settled on a policy that may set a precedent, as the United States slowly withdraws to allow Iraqis to settle their own problems. If the Kurds and Iraqi government forces fight, the American military will “step aside,” General Thomas said, rather than “have United States servicemen get killed trying to play peacemaker.”
The competing agendas of the Kurds and central government have nearly provoked violence before, but each side eventually grasped the risks. That may be the case now. At the moment, the Americans are hoping to refocus each side on fighting the insurgency rather than each other.
But the tensions underline that achieving basic security is only the first step toward deeper progress in Iraq — and that much remains, bitterly, unresolved.
From Fox News (North Korea):
North Korea's military warned Tuesday it would attack South Korea and turn it into "debris," in Pyongyang's latest response to what it says are confrontational activities by Seoul against the communist country.
The threat comes a day after military officers from the two Koreas held brief talks at the heavily fortified border, their second official contact since the North broke off inter-Korean relations in February.
The North threatened to cut off all ties if the "confrontational racket" continues, citing a South Korean general's recent threats to launch a pre-emptive strike against its nuclear sites and the refusal of civic activists in the South to heed Pyongyang's demands to cease distribution of propaganda leaflets critical of its leadership.
"The puppet authorities had better remember that the advanced pre-emptive strike of our own style will reduce everything opposed to the nation and reunification to debris, not just setting them on fire," the North's military said in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
Relations between the two Koreas have been tense since South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's administration took office earlier this year pledging to get tough with Pyongyang.
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