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Friday, May 29, 2009

In and Around North Korea: 23 - 29 May 2009

North Korea conducts second nuclear test

At 9:54 AM (KST), 25 May, North Korea conducted its second nuclear test near the northeastern town of Kilchu (near the site of the North’s 2006 nuclear test). Along with its nuclear test, North Korea also test-fired two short-range missiles on 25 May, and three short-range missiles on 26 May.

Reactions from South Korea, Japan, China, Russia, and the United Nations

The ROK Reactions. Following the North Korean nuclear test, the ROK government immediately convened an emergency meeting of the NSC meeting and placed its military on high alert. The ROK President Lee Myung-bak said he was disappointed with the North and ordered complete readiness to counter any additional provocations from the communist nation. At the end of the emergency NSC meeting, the ROK government issued a statement strongly denouncing North Korea's nuclear test as a "serious threat and challenge" to the international community.

The National Defense Committee of the ROK National Assembly adopted a resolution on 25 May (KST) urging governments around the world to take prompt and stern countermeasures against North Korea's latest nuclear test. The parliamentary committee said that Pyongyang must assume full responsibility for all incidents arising from its provoation.

The ROK government also banned its citizens from visiting North Korea, with the exception of those involved with the Kaesong Industrial Complex. The ban also applies to humanitarian aid workers, politicians and civic activists.

On 26 May (KST), the ROK government declared its decision to fully participate in the PSI. President Obama welcomed the decision during a telephone call with President Lee stating that South Korea’s membership is very important and that every other member state will welcome the decision as well.

To confirm that the North indeed detonated a nuclear device, the ROK military started to take air samples on 26 May (KST). A ROK defense ministry official said, “We expect it will be at least a few days before we can confirm that North Korea indeed detonated a nuclear device."

Japanese Reaction. Following the North’s test, the Japanese government set up a special task force at the emergency management center of Prime Minister Taro Aso's office.

In New York, Yukio Takasu, Japan's UN ambassador, met with the Russian ambassador and requested an emergency meeting of the UNSC.

In Hanoi, the Japanese Foreign Minister Nakasone sought China's support for Japan’s push to produce a UNSC resolution, and gained the ROK Foreign Minister’s agreement that the two countries “"call for the U.N. Security Council to convene an emergency meeting on the issue as early as possible."

During a telephone conversation between Prime Minister Aso and President Obama, the two leaders agreed that the UNSC must swiftly adopt a new resolution to impose “additional sanctions” on North Korea. Two leaders also agreed to encourage China and Russia to cooperate in adopting a new, fresh UNSC resolution.

On 26 May (KST), the Japanese House of Representatives unanimously endorsed a resolution at a plenary session condemning North Korea’s nuclear test, slamming it as an “act of violence.” The Japanese ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner, the New Komeito Party, issued a joint statement calling on the Japanese government to put forth efforts in seeking the passage of a new UNSC resolution and to impose additional unilateral sanctions on North Korea. The Diet resolution claims that “repeated nuclear tests by North Korea are a grave challenge to the international nonproliferation regime and are entirely unacceptable.” The House of Councilors is expected to adopt a similar resolution soon.

In an effort to confirm the North’s claim of its nuclear test, the Japanese Defense Ministry reportedly dispatched aircraft to take air samples from the sky over Japan.

Chinese Reaction. The Chinese government remained fairly muted about the North’s reported nuclear test; however, in contrast to the 05 Apr rocket launch, it released an official statement via its Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 25 May (KST) expressing its dismay about the latest North Korean action. The statement stopped short of an outright condemnation, but it was the harshest and most direct criticism of North Korea since the nuclear test in Oct 06. In the statement, China stated that it is in “resolute opposition” to the test, and that it “strongly demands that North Korea abide by the non-nuclearization commitments, stop related actions that may lead to further deterioration of the situation.” The statement also urged “all parties concerned to respond calmly.”

On 26 May (KST), the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said that China has directly “conveyed its position” to North Korea and that “China has been maintaining contact throughout with all relevant parties.” At a press briefing, a Chinese foreign ministry official stated that China will demand that North Korea fulfill the obligations it assumed during the Six-Party Talks on its nuclear program. The official stated that the Chinese side hopes that all the parties will work with China on “solving this problem by peaceful means through dialogue and negotiation.” These comments reiterated the Chinese foreign ministry’s official statement released a day earlier.

Russian Reaction. Reacting to the reported nuclear test, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on 25 May (KST) that North Korea has violated the UNSC Resolution 1718 and that the North’s nuclear tests have dealt a serious blow to the international efforts to strengthen the Nuclear NPT. The Russian State Duma deputies told Interfax on 25 May (KST) that the UNSC should apply economic sanctions against North Korea. The Chairman of the State Duma Defense Committee stated, however, that the security issue with North Korea should only be handled through talks. Along the same line, the Russian Foreign Ministry told Itar-Tass that Russia has urged other countries “not to go off into hysterics” or “overreact” in connection with the nuclear test.

On 26 May (KST), the Russian Foreign Ministry told Itar-Tass that Russia believes a new UN resolution on North Korea should not envisage an international isolation or blockade of North Korea. On the same day, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Borodavkin said Russia will not use “unilateral sanctions of any kind” against North Korea. He also stated that Russia believes that there is still a chance for North Korea to return to the Six-Party Talks. The Russian President’s Office, on the other hand, issued a statement on 26 May (KST) condemning the North’s nuclear test.

United Nations Reaction. Over the past 48 hours, the US, UK, Australia, France, Germany, the EU, NATO, and others throughout the international community also condemned the North’s activity. On 25 May (EDT), the UNSC held an emergency session and issued a statement calling the test a “clear violation” of UNSC Resolution 1718, which bans North Korea from any ballistic missile and nuclear activity. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was "deeply disturbed" by North Korea's nuclear test and later issued a statement deploring it as a violation of UNSC resolutions. On 26 May (EDT) the UNSC’s five permanent members, along with Japan and the ROK (dubbed P5+2), started a closed-door meeting to discuss the UNSC course of action against North Korea. As of the time of this report’s publication, the UNSC P5+2 had concluded its first meeting and the US UN Ambassador Susan Rice said the P5+2 had “very good, productive, initial talks” on the draft resolution against North Korea. The Japanese UN Ambassador Takasu told the reporters after the meeting that “there is a strong understanding” that the 15-nation council will send “a strong message” to North Korea.

North Korea reacts to South Korea’s decision to join the PSI – declares Korean War Armistice “null”
  • North Korea said on 27 May it was nullifying the Korean War armistice in response to Seoul's participation in a U.S.-led security campaign and warned of an immediate military strike should any attempt be made to interdict its ships.
  • The statement, issued by the North's permanent military mission to a joint security area in the demilitarized zone separating the Koreas, also said the country can no longer guarantee the safety of South Korean and US military ships and private vessels moving along the western sea border.
  • "Our revolutionary armed forces, as they have already declared, will regard the Lee Myung-bak group of traitors' 'full participation' in the PSI as a declaration of war against the DPRK (North Korea)," the Panmunjom Mission of the North's Korean People's Army said.
  • Further raising the stakes, the North's military mission said it was scrapping the armistice agreement brokered in 1953 at the end of the three-year Korean War.
  • The spirit of the cease-fire agreement had already been broken by South Korea's participation in the PSI, the military mission claimed, citing a ban on naval blockades imposed by the armistice.
  • With the armistice now rendered ineffective, the North's mission said the country's military will no more respect the Northern Limit Line, the de-facto border in the Yellow Sea unilaterally drawn at the end of the war by the UN Command. The North has rejected the sea border as illegitimate and demanded it be redrawn further south. Two bloody skirmishes occurred in the area in 1999 and 2002, claiming scores of lives on both sides.
  • "For the present, we will not guarantee the legal status of the five islands under the south side's control," the mission said, as well as "safe sailing of warships of the U.S. imperialist aggression forces and the South Korean puppet navy and civilian ships operating in the waters around there."
  • "It is illogical for the DPRK to unilaterally meet the requirements of fair international law and the bilateral agreement since the U.S. imperialists and the Lee Myung-bak group of traitors have reneged on them," it said.

North Korean Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland reinforces threat against South Korea’s PSI participation
  • Just hours after the North Korean military vowed to take “wartime” actions to retaliate against South Korea’s participation in the PSI, the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland reinforced the threat with its own statement and accused Seoul of "declaring war" by announcing participation in the PSI.
  • Pyongyang "will counter with real active measures tantamount to war-time conditions," said the statement carried by the North's Korean Central News Agency.
  • "We will consider any efforts to hold or search our vessels as a violation of our sacred sovereignty and as grave provocations. We will retaliate viciously," the statement said.
  • The committee justified its nuclear test, arguing that it is "only natural for a nuclear state to conduct a nuclear test.
  • The US and its "followers" are not driven by the purpose of stopping nuclear proliferation, but by the "dark intention to solely repress" North Korea, it said.

UN Command rejects North Korean nullification of Korean War Armistice
  • The US-led United Nations Command in South Korea on 28 May rejected the claim by North Korea that it is no longer bound by the truce that halted war on the Korean Peninsula.
  • "The armistice remains in force and is binding on all signatories, including North Korea," it said in a release, one day after Pyongyang declared it "will not be bound" to the 1953 deal that ended the three-year Korean War.
  • "The armistice has served as the legal basis for the ceasefire in Korea for over 55 years," an unidentified UN Command spokesman said in the statement. "The UN Command will adhere to the terms of the armistice and the mechanisms that support it."

South Korea and US step up surveillance over North Korea
  • The armed forces of South Korea and the US raised their surveillance over North Korea to the second highest level Thursday as the communist state went ahead with its second nuclear test and threatened war, an official said.
  • The last elevation of the five-stage "WATCHCON" was in Oct 06 when North Korea conducted its first nuclear test. It was then also ramped up to the second highest notch.
  • "WATCHCON II took effect as of 7:15 a.m.," South Korean defense spokesman Won Tae-jae said in a briefing, adding the five-stage combat alert level, "DEFCON," remains at four.

North Korea preparing to fire missiles from west coast
  • North Korea continues to show signs of preparations for short-range missile launches from its west coast after firing five from its east coast and testing a nuclear device, a South Korean source said Wednesday.
  • "Signs continue to be seen that launches will take place in the west," the defense source said.
  • "Various scenarios concerning North Korean missiles are being analyzed by the South Korean military," the source said. Others said anti-ship missiles may be among those being prepared on the west.

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