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THE INDEX — January 11, 2009

North Korea has called for a formal peace treaty with the United States to replace the unstable truce that marked the end of the Korean War in 1953. Without such an agreement, Pyongyang has suggested they will not give up their nuclear weapons. International concerns escalated once again last April when the country withdrew from the Six-Nation Talks (the United States, China, Japan, Russia, and the Koreas) that have aimed to reduce tensions and shut down North Korea’s nuclear weapon program. Historically, these negotiations have been based on a relationship between the United States and North Korea, but Washington drew in the other four neighboring nations following Pyongyang's violation of the 1994 Framework Agreement. However, North Korea still seeks a bilateral negotiations with the United States and says it will return to nuclear disarmament discussions in exchange for a peace treaty with Washington and an end to U.S. sanctions. North Korea’s announcement came after Robert King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea, called for improvement on "appalling” human rights conditions in North Korea. His calls coincided with a visit to North Korea by the principle negotiator on the nuclear program, Stephen Bosworth, who delivered a letter from President Obama suggesting North Korea return to the negotiating table. But South Korea denounced the North’s demand for a peace agreement and has refused to sign a truce until Pyongyang closes down its nuclear weapons program. Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Peter Robinson has decided to step down for six weeks following the debacle surrounding his wife’s finances and private life. Iris Robinson, a politician herself, reportedly gave $80,000 to a 19-year-old man, with whom she was having an affair, to open a café. Mrs. Robinson failed to register the money with the appropriate authorities, as required by law. BBC news announced that Mrs. Robinson will give up her positions in Northern Ireland’s Assembly and the British Parliament later this week due to the scandal, “serious bouts of depression,” and attempted suicide; she is currently receiving “acute psychiatric treatment.” Meanwhile, Mr. Robinson has been accused of concealing the financial information concerning his wife’s indiscretion. Nonetheless, Mr. Robinson’s decision came as a surprise to fellow party leaders this morning, who defended him, despite calls for his resignation. Just days ago, the DUP deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, announced that the party “offered him wholehearted support” and expressed the “desire that he remain in office and the DUP leader." Mr. Robinson has selected Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster to assume the role of first minister while investigations are conducted about his involvement in the scandal. In a statement released this past weekend, Yemen’s president declared his government ready to engage in talks with disarmed Al Qaeda members. According to President Ali Abdullah Saleh, “dialogue is the best way, even with Al Qaeda, if they set aside their weapons and return to reason.” Saleh further assured international audiences that Yemen is “ready to reach [an] understanding with anyone who renounces violence and terrorism.” In the weeks that followed the failed Christmas Day attack on board a Detroit-bound airplane—an attack that was the brainchild of Yemeni militants associated with Al Qaeda—the United States has increased its engagement with the Yemeni government on counterterrorism matters. The recent uptick in U.S. involvement comes in the wake of several years of lagging support for Yemeni efforts to address its security quagmire. (The relationship between the two countries was further strained in 2006, following the prison escape of several Yemeni militants who were associated with the bombing of the U.S. naval destroyer Cole.) To date, one of the principle problems confronting Yemeni officials in their renewed attempt to target Al Qaeda strongholds is the extent to which the terrorist outfit has penetrated prominent Yemeni institutions. According to an Al Jazeera report, some well-known clerics in the country have ties to Al Qaeda, as do the offspring of certain highly visible government officials. The same report goes on to speculate that Al Qaeda’s high degree of popularity within sectors of the country is motivated by a repugnance for the corruption of the Saleh administration, as well as by anti-Western sentiments—both factors that make U.S. engagement with the government a difficult prospect. An Iranian parliamentary report released on Sunday has held a former prosecutor responsible for the deaths of three inmates imprisoned during last summer’s election protests. The report also held the same prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, responsible for arresting an inordinate number of protesters and filling a detention center in Tehran well past capacity. The public release of the report, which is stinging in its criticism, signals a growing political rift between different factions of the Iranian government, with moderates pushing back against the harsh detentions and crackdowns favored by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his supporters. According to the report, “two groups were wronged [by the prosecutor’s actions]. First, the people detained on July 9, whose rights were violated. The government should mollify them. Second, the more important issue, is the right of the establishment. The damage to the image of the establishment should be repaired by taking firm action against any judicial or police official involved in the incident and informing the public about the proceedings.” By making reference to “the image of the establishment,” the report reveals the growing concern of some Iranian officials over the increasingly tarnished international reputation that the regime has acquired over the course of the past half-year.

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