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Disclaimers on Views/Information Contained in thie Blog

- The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author's (or the author(s) of the original articles), and do not reflect, in any shape, way, or form, the official policy or position of the author's employer (current or former) or any other organization.

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- Please note that some of the postings will provide only information with no comments or analysis while other postings will have comments and/or analysis.

Friday, February 27, 2009

In and Around North Korea: 21 - 27 February 2009

  • Striking a different tone from American intelligence officials, Secretary of State Clinton cast doubt s on the existence of North Korea’s purported highly enriched uranium program, in what some observers here believe is an indicator of Washington’s changing priorities in talks on denuclearizing the reclusive country. When referring to the suspected program in an interview with US network Fox News on 20 Feb, Clinton said, “I think that there is a sense, among many who have studied this, that there may be some program somewhere, but no one can point to any specific location nor can they point to any specific outcome of whatever might have gone on, if anything did.” She added, “I don’t have any doubt that they would try whatever they possibly could. Have they? I don’t know that and nobody else does either.”

  • A source at the United Nations said on 21 Feb that a plan to send a United Nations special envoy to North Korea next month has been called off due to North Korea’s unwillingness to hold dialogue at this time. A group of U.N. delegates led by Lynn Pascoe, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, had planned to visit Pyongyang in early March but North Korea has rejected the offer, the source told Yonhap News Agency. The appointment of the high-profile figure as special envoy to North Korea has been viewed as a sign that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is moving to take a greater role in dealing with Pyongyang's reported plans to test-fire a ballistic missile.

  • A South Korean official said on 22 Feb that all participants of the Northeast Asia Peace and Security Mechanism Working Group, held from 19 – 20 Feb in Moscow, Russia, reached a full agreement that a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula is key to peace and stability in North East Asia.

  • Stephen Bosworth, US special representative for North Korea, will lead the US delegation at future six-party talks on ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions, the State Department said on 23 Feb. That's a sharp departure from the Bush administration, under which the multilateral talks were led by an assistant secretary of state Christopher Hill. "Ambassador Bosworth is the lead for the United States," deputy spokesman Gordon Duguid said, quelling speculation that Sung Kim, special envoy for the six-party talks, would lead the US delegation at future rounds since Bosworth intends to keep his job as a college dean in Massachusetts.

  • According to Secretary of State Clinton’s remarks on 26 Feb (27 Feb Korea time), Ambassador Bosworth, Special Representative for North Korea policy, along with Ambassador Sung Kim, Special Envoy for the Six-Party Talks, will be departing for Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing and Moscow early next week to consult on next steps to move the Six-Party process forward.

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has promoted a renowned hawk to a top military post, signaling a continuing hard-line against South Korea, according to analysts. General O Kuk-Ryol was appointed vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, said an official statement published on 20 Feb by the North's official Korean Central News Agency. O, born in 1931, is one of Kim's confidants and a "renowned hawk" who has advocated a hard-line stance against South Korea, Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies, told AFP. "His promotion is seen as another strong message towards South Korea," he said. "It is also aimed at enhancing stability in the military by appointing Kim's trusted old guard to a key post."

  • US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went further than other U.S. officials in touching upon a possible succession situation in North Korea on 20 Feb, saying the sensitive topic is "something you have to think about." The top US diplomat affirmed that current leader Kim Jong il is Washington's negotiation partner, but her unusual remarks on uncertainty in Pyongyang suggested that the new US government is taking into account what could happen in the post-Kim era as it shapes policy on North Korea, analysts said.

  • North Korea will likely disclose the names of its new lawmakers following the March 8 parliamentary elections, a Seoul spokesman said on 23 Feb, which could provide a decisive clue about succession rumors surrounding leader Kim Jong-il's third son. The North's rubber-stamp parliament has no power, but membership in it is believed to be an essential step toward joining the political elite in the communist state. Sources told Yonhap last week that the youngest of the leader's three sons, Kim Jong-un, 26, has registered as a candidate for the upcoming election in a sign of nascent succession process.

  • South Korea's intelligence chief said on 25 Feb that another father-to-son succession is possible in North Korea, the first reference by a senior Seoul official to the future of the Kim Jong-il regime in Pyongyang. "A three-generation succession appears to be possible," Won Sei-hoon, chief of the National Intelligence Service, was quoted as saying in a closed-door parliamentary briefing.

  • China has invited North Korean leader Kim Jong-il for a summit with Chinese President Hu Jintao, as the two allied nations celebrate their 60th year of diplomatic relations, Pyongyang's state media said on 26 Feb. The invitation was offered a day earlier by Jia Qinglin, chairman of the People's Political Consultative Conference of China and the fourth-ranking member of the Communist Party's politburo standing committee, to a visiting delegation of the Workers' Party of North Korea, according to the Korean Central Broadcasting Station (KCBS). "Mutual visits by the leaders of the two countries are the most essential and irreplaceable in developing bilateral relations," Jia was quoted as telling the North Korean officials by the KCBS.

  • Leader Kim Jong-il said that in order to solve the food problem, the main in clothing, food and housing, it is imperative to send a large quantity of fertilizer to the countryside while giving on-the-spot guidance to the Hungnam Fertilizer Complex some time ago. This news is arousing forcefully the Korean people to increase grain production, upholding the tasks put forth in the joint New Year editorial from the beginning of the year. The state is strengthening material, technical and labor support to the countryside to solve the shortage of food on its own at any cost this year.

  • North Korea's human rights record is abysmal, with authorities even killing some babies upon birth in a vast network of prisons, the US State Department charged. The scathing report Wednesday (25 Feb) comes as the new Barack Obama administration reviews its way forward with North Korea, which has hinted it is on the verge of a long-range missile test. "North Korea's human rights record remained abysmal," the State Department said in its global report for 2008, in some of its harshest criticism of any country. "While the regime continued to control almost all aspects of citizens' lives ... reports of abuse emerged from the country with increased frequency," it said.

  • A former adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama on Asian affairs said 19 Feb North Korea is highly likely to fire a long-range missile in the weeks ahead. "There is a real possibility that in the coming weeks North Korea will end up testing a long-range missile," said Gordon Flake at a forum on North Korea.

  • Space is mankind's common asset [chaebu], and the peaceful use of space is becoming a worldwide trend today. According to the policy for space development and peaceful use of the government of the Republic, the research and development work to launch an artificial earth satellite with [our] own power and technology have been carried out consistently in our country since the 1980s. Currently, [we] are carrying out in full swing the preparatory work to launch a test communications satellite "Kwangmyo'ngso'ng No 2" via carrier rocket "U'nha No 2" at the Tonghae [East Sea] satellite launch site located in Hwadae County, North Hamgyo'ng Province.

  • North Korea appears to be setting up radars and assessment equipment but has yet to mount a suspected long-range missile at a launch pad on its east coast, a South Korean source said on 24 Feb. The communist state said earlier in the day it is preparing to launch a rocket that would carry a satellite into space. US and S. Korean officials believe the North may be getting ready to test-fire its longest-range missile, the Taepodong-2.

  • The United States will deal with a missile test by North Korea in three stages. Until the test, the US is using a double-pronged strategy of persuasion and pressure. In the event Pyongyang nonetheless fires a missile, the US plans to intercept it. North Korea is believed to be planning to fire a missile over Japan and drop it in the Pacific, as it did with a Taepodong-1 missile in August 1998. In the third stage, the US plans to convene a UN Security Council session immediately and discuss resuming sanctions against North Korea.

  • North Korea's official announcement on on24 Feb that it would launch a satellite, not a missile, could affect the response of the US, which has warned it could intercept any missile that was fired at the American mainland. While few believe the satellite claim, the announcement means the projectile can only be intercepted if positively identified as a missile to avoid charges of violating North Korea's sovereignty.

  • Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee told a National Assembly session on 24 Feb North Korea will be in violation of a UN Security Council resolution whether it launches a missile or, as it claims, a satellite and faces UN sanctions. The remarks follow a similar warning from the US. The warning is based on the paragraph 5 of the UN Security Council Resolution 1718 adopted on the heels of North Korea's nuclear test in October 2006. The paragraph “decides that (North Korea) shall suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program and in this context re-establish its pre-existing commitments to a moratorium on missile launching.” In the unlikely event that North Korea does put a satellite into orbit, there is room for a dispute on sanctions against the North. "There is no international law or treaty that bans or sanctions the use of space," notes Prof. Kim Yong-hyun of Dongguk University. China and Russia, both permanent members of the UN Security Council, have yet to respond to North Korea's preparations for a missile test. "If what North Korea launches is clearly not a long-range missile, China and Russia are unlikely to step forward to sanction the North," a researcher at a state think tank said.

  • South Korean and US intelligence said on 25 Feb North Korea has significantly improved its facilities for missile launch, with fueling stations built underground at the Taepodong-2 launch base at Musudan-ri in North Hamkyong Province. Experts said South Korean authorities could find it more difficult to closely monitor signs of an imminent missile launch. Senior Seoul officials said Pyongyang completed facilities for putting liquid fuel into a missile projectile at an underground space near the launch pad at Musudan-ri between late last year and early this year.

  • North Korea may have advanced its fuel type and injection systems for its long-range ballistic missile, allowing its leader Kim Jong-il greater freedom in choosing when to go ahead with a launch, officials and missile experts said on26 Feb. It took the North Korean authorities several days to inject liquid fuel into a Taepodong-2 missile that crashed less than a minute after takeoff in a July 2006 test. South Korean officials and experts say the fueling time could be reduced to a single day if the communist country has fully developed the capability to produce solid fuel for its long-range missiles. Solid fuel, which is thicker than jelly but softer than a tire, can be instantly loaded into a missile, allowing authorities to drastically cut the time needed for launch preparations.

  • North Korea appears to have begun testing radars and other monitoring equipment as it moves briskly to launch what it claims will be a satellite, a South Korean source said on 27 Feb. "Considering the brisk activity at the Musudan-ri base, we've concluded that the North's authorities have started testing radars and other equipment as they assemble them," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to disclose the information to the media.

  • "If a missile leaves the launch pad we'll be prepared to respond upon direction of the president," Keating told ABC News. "I'm not a betting man but I'd go like 60/40, 70/30 that it will, they will attempt to launch a satellite. There's equipment moving up there that would indicate the preliminary stages of preparation for a launch. So I'd say it's more than less likely."

  • Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada suggested on 27 Feb that Japan might shoot down the North Korean ballistic missile with its ballistic missile shield if the missile heads toward Japan. "The Defense Ministry has long been considering such a thing (intercepting a North Korean ballistic missile)," Hamada told a news conference. "It's not something we have to comment on in one way or another just because we have a situation like this now."

  • South Korea would sternly respond to any preemptive attack by North Korea on South Korean warships along the disputed maritime border in the Yellow Sea by striking back at the North's military installations from which the attack originates, Seoul's defense chief said on 20 Feb. "We will clearly respond to any preemptive artillery or missile attack by North Korea," Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee said at a parliamentary hearing.

  • On 24 Feb, North Korea conducted a coastal artillery live fire exercise on the west coast near Yo’n-p’yo’ng Island, close to the Northern Limit Line (NLL). According to the ROK Ministry of Defense, the North conducted the live fire from the coastal artillery units deployed in Haeju and Eung-jin Peninsula once in the morning and once in the afternoon of 24 Feb. The ROK Ministry of Defense assessed the live fire exercises were a part of the “routine winter training cycle exercise, and not an indication of provocation.”

  • South Korea's top naval commander was quoted on 24 Feb as warning that North Korea could provoke in a fashion "beyond our imagination" as he inspected South Korea's east coast despite rising concerns of an armed clash on the western side. The inspection by Navy Chief of Staff Jung Ok-keun came just days after the South Korean chairman of general staff said at a parliamentary hearing that the North could deploy surprise tactics by provoking at an unexpected site along the border with South Korea.

  • The ROK defense chief said on 25 Feb that the ROK military would firmly respond to any provocation from North Korea, as the nation struggles with rising tension caused by Pyongyang's latest saber-rattling attempts. "The military would respond in a clear and firm manner against provocative action from North Korea, and not be shaken in any way by the stereotypical and rhetorical threats of the North," Lee said at a meeting marking the 20th anniversary of a veterans' club. He stressed that the military is not simply hoping for the North to refrain from provoking the South, but that it has the ability and combat-readiness to win even if it does.

  • South Korea will not submit to North Korea's threats regardless of how long it takes before inter-Korean talks are resumed, a senior presidential adviser said on 25 Feb. Park Hyung-joon, senior assistant for public affairs, also said North Korea's launch of what it claims is a satellite will not be condoned by the international community, even if it is a satellite and not a missile as suspected. "What North Korea needs to do right now is to take an open-minded approach to six-party talks and inter-Korean relations, rather than trying to seek gains by threatening the international community," Park said in an interview on a local radio program.

  • North Korea strongly denounced on 26 Feb a series of concerns recently voiced by South Korean ministers over its military threat against the South and alleged preparations for a missile launch, repeating its claim that the launch is for a satellite and is wholly under its sovereign rights. A spokesman for the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, a powerful Communist Party organization handling inter-Korean relations, rebutted, saying, "As far as the issue of satellite launch is concerned, it is the North's sovereign right universally recognized which does not allow mere (South Korean) puppets to take issue with it." In the report carried by the (North) Korean Central News Agency, the unidentified spokesman said the North is ready for "everything as for their loudmouthed 'sanctions', 'intercepting' and 'retaliatory strike.'"

  • Twenty lawmakers urged Seoul and Pyongyang leaders to work toward resuming tours to Mt. Geumgang, saying the travel ban has taken a toll on South and North Koreans heavily dependent on tourism income. Seoul suspended the cross-border tours, which kicked off in November 1998, five months ago, shortly after a female South Korean tourist was killed by a North Korean soldier last July. The North has offered no official apology for the shooting. Since the suspension of the program, dozens of South Korean businesses and approximately 1,000 travel agents that offered organized trips to the North have gone to the brink of bankruptcy,'' said independent lawmaker Song Hun-suk, an architect of the resolution.

  • North Korea has completed the deployment of brand-new ballistic missiles capable of reaching the US territory of Guam and expanded its special forces after examining US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, South Korea said on 23 Feb. The defense ministry also said in its latest assessment of the communist neighbor that the North has recently bolstered its naval forces, reinforcing submarines and developing new types of torpedoes. The 2008 defense white paper, published after weeks of delay, terms the North's 1.19-million-strong military an "immediate and grave threat," as tension runs high along a western sea border. "After examining the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, North Korea appears to have developed new strategies that can complement its shortfalls while reinforcing its strengths," said Shin Won-sik, deputy of policy planning at the Ministry of National Defense.

  • The United States reiterated its commitment to defend South Korea against any provocation from North Korea as the reclusive communist state threatens a missile launch and even imminent war on 25 Feb. "All I can tell you is that the US-ROK alliance is a strong one. We have many plans for a multitude of contingencies, were there to be provocative action by the North," Geoff Morrell, Pentagon press secretary, told a daily news conference. "And we feel we are well prepared to defend the South against any provocation."

  • North Korean authorities have released the Russian dry cargo ship Omsky-122, which was earlier detained near the North Korean coast on 17 Feb. The Russian consulate general in Ch'ongjin confirmed that the Russian dry cargo ship Omsky-122 was released at 2:30 p.m. local time and headed for Vladivostok.

Friday, February 20, 2009

In and Aroun North Korea: 14 - 20 February 2009

  • North Korea will not likely use its nuclear weapons unless it feels its security is at risk, the chief US intelligence official said on 12 Feb. "Pyongyang probably views its nuclear weapons as being more for deterrence, international prestige, and coercive diplomacy than for war fighting and would consider using nuclear weapons only under certain narrow circumstances," the director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, said in a report presented at a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing. "We also assess Pyongyang probably would not attempt to use nuclear weapons against US forces or territory unless it perceived the regime to be on the verge of military defeat and risked an irretrievable loss of control," Blair said in the report, titled "Annual Threat Assessment of the Intelligence Community."

  • The outgoing top US nuclear envoy stressed on 15 Feb that the US does not regard North Korea as a nuclear power, countering growing speculation that Washington might have lowered the bar in dealing with the communist state's nuclear ambitions. "We do not and have never accepted North Korea as a nuclear weapon state I want to make that very clear," Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told reporters after meeting with Seoul's top nuclear negotiator Kim Suk in Seoul.

  • The chief Japanese and US nuclear negotiators agreed on 16 Feb to continue pressing for North Korea's denuclearization through the six-party talks under President Barack Obama's administration, Japanese Foreign Ministry officials said. Akitaka Saiki, director general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, and Christopher Hill, US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, reaffirmed the countries' joint position of not compromising easily in negotiations with North Korea on how to verify its nuclear programs. They are also believed to have agreed that given Pyongyang's recent provocative actions, it would be difficult for much progress to be made on US-North Korea relations at the moment.

  • South Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-soo said on 16 Feb that Seoul wants a complete denuclearization of North Korea, and that the nations involved in the process do not approve of the country's possession of nuclear power. "Complete abandonment," Han said during an interpellation session in parliament when asked by lawmakers what Seoul's ultimate goal is in the six-party framework on North Korea's nuclear program.

  • The US Secretary of State Clinton warned North Korea on 17 Feb that it stood to lose vital economic aid unless it took immediate steps to abandon its nuclear weapons program. In a move that could heighten tensions between the two countries, Pyongyang is reportedly preparing to test a Taepodong-2 ballistic missile believed to have sufficient range to reach US territory. Speaking in Tokyo on her first overseas trip as secretary of state, Clinton warned the Pyongyang regime against going ahead with the threatened launch, saying it would damage its prospects for improved relations with the US and the world.

  • Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso will meet US President Barack Obama in Washington 24 Feb for Obama's first talks with a foreign leader at the White House since taking office, Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said after meeting in Tokyo on Tuesday (17 Feb). Clinton and Nakasone said in a joint news conference they agreed to reinforce the Japan-US alliance to tackle various global issues, including the financial crisis and terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as North Korea's denuclearization and past abductions of Japanese citizens. The two ministers also shared expectations for China to play a "constructive" role in the international arena, while Clinton warned North Korea that a possible missile launch that Pyongyang has been hinting at would be "very unhelpful" to efforts to move the denuclearization process forward.

  • North Korea is operating a secret underground plant to make nuclear bombs from highly enriched uranium (HEU) despite denying that such a program exists, a South Korean newspaper said on 18 Feb. Dong-A Ilbo, quoting an unnamed senior government source, said South Korea and the United States have shared intelligence on the plant in Yongbyon district.

  • South Korean intelligence efforts in the north appear to have uncovered information about a secret North Korean underground factory that is producing nuclear weapons using enriched Uranium. North Korea has long been installing military installations in large underground bunkers, often dug into the sides of mountains. North Korea has lots of mountains for this. If North Korea decides to test a uranium based bomb, it would probably be an underground test, like the 2006 plutonium bomb. But there is no way to prevent some radioactive gases from such a test from escaping into the atmosphere.

  • A working group for security mechanisms in North-East Asia met at the Russian Foreign Ministry on 19 Feb to discuss a draft of the Guiding Principles of Peace. The meeting was held under Russia's chairmanship with participation of all the six countries that take part in the six-way talks on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. The Russian diplomat said the working group is likely to approve a new schedule of meetings that would certainly be linked with the general course of the six-way talks.

  • US Secretary of State Clinton said on 19 Feb that North Korea's leadership situation is uncertain and the United States is worried the Stalinist country may soon face a succession crisis to replace dictator Kim Jong-il. Clinton said the Obama administration is deeply concerned that a potential change in Pyongyang's ruling structure could raise already heightened tensions between North Korea and its neighbors as potential successors to Kim jockey for position and power.

  • On 20 Feb, US Secretary of State Clinton stressed that North Korea's missile threats would harm the six-way disarmament talks and urged the communist nation to return to the bargaining table. "We are calling on the government of North Korea to refrain from being provocative and unhelpful in a war of words they engaged in because it is not fruitful," Clinton said in a press conference in Seoul after talks with her South Korean counterpart, Yu Myung-hwan. She also announced President Barack Obama's appointment of Stephen Bosworth, a former U.S. ambassador to Seoul, as the top U.S. official handling the North Korean issue. "We need a capable and experienced diplomat to stem our risks from North Korea's nuclear ambitions," she said, adding Bosworth will serve as senior emissary in dealing with North Korea and directly report to her and Obama. The secretary said that North Korea is "not going to get a different relationship with U.S." if it shuns dialogue with S. Korea.

  • North Korea warned on 19 Feb that South Korea and the United States will pay a "high price" if they go ahead with their planned joint war drills, saying it is ready for an all-out war. A day earlier, the two allies said they will hold their annual military exercise from March 9-20 across South Korea. Pyongyang has denounced such drills as preparations for preemptive strikes, while the allies say they are purely defensive. “Inter-Korean relations are at their worst crisis," Radio Pyongyang said. "A dangerous situation is arising in the western sea and the regions where the two sides are in standoff ... one does not know when military clashes will occur." Following are excerpts of KCNA reports about the ROK-US combined exercise:
  • “The U.S. imperialists and warmongers of the South Korean puppet army are getting more frantic in their arms build-up and exercises for a war of aggression against the DPRK these days, according to a military source. On 19 Feb warmongers of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces deployed at least 20 overseas-based F/A-18s, HC-130 and KC-135 in their air force bases in South Korea. 16 F/A-18s and E-3 were also deployed there on 13 Feb. The north-south relations have reached such a pass due to the puppet army warmongers' moves to escalate the confrontation with the DPRK that there is no way to improve them or
    put them under control.”
  • “The bellicose conservative hard-liners of the US and the Lee Myung-bak group have buckled down to working out a new operational plan, a joint product of the theory of a war against the DPRK, in a bid to finally examine the feasibility of the DPRK-targeted war strategy that has already gone through several phases. All their war scenarios such as ‘OPLAN 5026’ called "precision strike plan", ‘OPLAN 5027’ called ‘an operational plan for coping with an all-out war’, ‘OPLAN 5028’ which took the provocation of a war and its escalation into consideration, ‘OPLAN 5029’ simulating ‘destabilization in the north’ and ‘OPLAN 5030’ aimed to weaken as much as possible the strength and capability of the DPRK assume without exception the nature of preemptive strikes.”
  • “According to South Korea's Yonhap News, US imperialists and the Lee
    Myung-bak puppet warlike forces are going to perpetrate the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle joint military exercises, which are exercises for a war of northward aggression, in all of South Korea from 3-20 March. The South Korea-US Combined Forces Command [CFC] announced this on 18 February. The warmongers are going to mobilize massive aggression forces for the war exercises, including some 12,000 troops of the US imperialist aggression forces occupying South Korea, some 14,000 troops of overseas-based US forces, and corps-level, fleet command-level, and wing-level units of the puppet forces. A nuclear-powered aircraft carrier of the US forces is reportedly stepping up preparations to move to the East Sea [Sea of Japan] of Korea to participate in the war exercises. In the meantime, the First Corps of the puppet army openly declared that it will carry out field tactical training in the areas of Koyang and P'aju, Kyo'nggi Province, from the 20th [of February] by mobilizing various kinds of war equipment and massive forces. Currently, the 30th Division of the puppet army is bustling about for field mobile training in these areas.”
    • Unlike its usual focus on leader Kim Jong-il, this year's ruling party editorial honoring his birthday repeatedly emphasized the "inheritance of bloodline," Seoul officials said on 17 Feb amid growing speculation of succession. "In the midst of glorious inheritance of bloodline of Mount Paektu is the bright future of the Juche (self-reliance) revolution," Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpeice of the ruling Workers' Party, said in its editorial on 16 Feb.

    • A source close to the North Korean government has told Mainichi Shimbun that an internal memo circulating in the North Korean military headquarters has named Kim Jong-il's third son, 26-year-old Kim Jong Un, as his successor. However, Kim's second son, Kim Jong Chol, 28, is complicating the transfer of power as he is also apparently vying for the position following his appointment to a top post in the Workers' Party of Korea. According to the source, the memo is believed to be used for military ideological training and says that Kim Jong Un has been named as his father's successor. Kim Jong Un was reportedly studying at the Kim Il Sung Military University until 2007 before joining the army.

    • North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s alleged decision to name his third son as his successor has been made at the recommendation of his brother-in-law, who is known to have overseen state affairs while Kim fell ill, sources said on 15 Feb. Jang Song-thaek, husband of Kim's younger sister and believed to be second in power, recommended Kim's youngest, [Kim] Jong-un, take over as the North's new leader, considering the incumbent leader's special affection for the 25-year-old son, multiple sources said on condition of anonymity.

    • The youngest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is running in parliamentary elections seen by some analysts as laying the groundwork for a power transition, a report said Thursday (19Feb). The leader's third son, 25-year-old Jong Un, has registered as a candidate for the elections on March 8, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency said. The registration means North Korea has started the process of designating the leader's successor, Yonhap said, citing sources in Beijing. "Kim Jung Un will be formally nominated as successor after the elections. He is expected to take on key party and military posts in April," one source told Yonhap.

    • North Korea's food supply will fall 1.17 million tons short of demand this year, while Pyongyang is tightening control of the market and economic activities, Seoul's Unification Ministry said on 19 Feb. North Korea produced 4.31 million tons of grain last year, up 7 percent from the previous year thanks to improved weather conditions. But the country likely needs 5.48 million tons to feed its 2.3 million people, the ministry said in a report submitted to the National Assembly's foreign affairs, trade and unification committee.

    • Two members of the British House of Lords returned from a five-day visit to North Korea last weekend and called on the new Obama administration to bring about a formal cessation of hostilities and normalisation of relations with North Korea. Lord David Alton and Baroness Caroline Cox expressed deep concerns over human rights, humanitarian and security issues during high-level meetings with DPRK government ministers and officials.

    • North Korea signaled on 16 Feb that it is preparing to launch a satellite, sharpening its combative diplomacy on leader Kim Jong-il's birthday amid rising tension with South Korea and stalled nuclear negotiations with the United States. Pyongyang made clear it will go ahead with what it called its "space development" program, a possible message to Washington ahead of US Secretary of State Clinton's visit to Seoul this week. "One will come to know later what will be launched in the DPRK," the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

    • When the US delegation led by former US ambassador to South Korea Stephen Bosworth visited North Korea and asked a high-ranking official of North Korea's Foreign Ministry about [the country's] preparation of the launch of a long-range ballistic missile, the official said: "We are still under a threat (of the United States). Under such circumstance, we will reinforce our deterrence." Korean Central News Agency on 16 Feby claimed that the object, which North Korea is preparing to launch, is not a missile and hinted at the possibility of launching a "satellite," asserting that "space development is the independent right of North Korea." It is viewed as North Korea's explanation to avoid criticism from the international community when it launches a missile. It contradicts the comment by the high-ranking official, who talked about "[reinforcing] deterrence."

    • North Korea could complete preparations to fire a missile within the next two weeks at the earliest, Seoul's defense chief reportedly said on 18 Feb, as South Korea and the US warned Pyongyang of sanctions and other consequences. Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee made the prediction during a closed-door report to ruling Grand National Party leaders, Yonhap News Agency said, citing unnamed participants.

    • South Korea's top diplomat emphasized on 18 Feb that North Korea's missile program poses a serious threat to international security due to its ability to launch a nuclear bomb. Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan also said that Pyongyang would still face stern punitive measures from the United Nations even if it launches a satellite, and not a missile as feared. North Korea's missile is not a mere conventional weapon," Yu said at a meeting with foreign envoys here. "The combination of its long-range missile and nuclear capability will have a very serious impact to the world's peace and security."

    • The issue of whether South Korea should participate in the Missile Defense efforts led by the United States has resurfaced amid intelligence reports that North Korea is preparing to launch a long-range ballistic missile. The US-led Missile Defense system is being developed as a deterrent against air attacks from potential enemies such as North Korea and Iran. It will include a combination of mid-course intercepting SM-3 missiles based on US and Japanese Aegis-equipped ships and terminal-phase PAC-3 missile batteries. Japan, one of Washington's closest allies, is a partner in the program.

    • Japanese companies played a key role in supplying equipment used for Pakistan's nuclear development, investigations by Kyodo News in Islamabad and Tokyo have revealed in recent days. Comments by Pakistan's disgraced nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan and former employees of the companies reveal in detail for the first time how leading Japanese manufacturers knowingly and unknowingly helped Pakistan acquire nuclear capability and were incorporated into its supply framework.

    • An US scholar on 18 Feb urged the Barack Obama administration to resume negotiations on removal of North Korea's long-range missiles, talks that were suspended a decade ago under the Clinton administration. The Obama administration should "declare that the US is willing to resume negotiations to eliminate North Korea's missile threats to its neighbors," Bruce Klingner, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said in a policy report posted on the foundation's Website. Klingner, however, added that such negotiations "must comprehensively constrain missile development, deployment, and proliferation rather than simply seeking a quid pro quo agreement – cash payments in exchange for not exporting missile technology."

    • North Korea said on 19 Feb its missile and nuclear programs pose no threat, ahead of a visit by US Secretary of State Clinton to South Korea for talks expected to focus on North Korea. North Korea's military accused South Korea of misusing what it called "nonexistent nuclear and missile threats" as a pretext to invade, and renewed a warning that its troops are in an "all-out confrontational posture" against Seoul.

    • North Korea's titular head of state Kim Yong-nam Sunday (15 Feb) warned Pyongyang will take "decisive actions" against Seoul if the South continues to challenge the communist nation, becoming the highest North Korean official yet to directly make such a threat since inter-Korean relations turned sour early last year. The fresh threat comes after the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said late last month that the North will no longer honor any agreement reached between the divided Koreas in the past, also pledging to take all means necessary redraw a maritime border in the western sea to the south of the existing border, Northern Limit Line.

    • South Korea is on high alert as the North Korean military has exposed part of its combat capability such as rocket and coastal artillery at its bases near the Military Demarcation Line and the maritime borderline in the Yellow Sea. Military sources in Seoul said on 13 Feb that intelligence spotted a raft of 240mm rocket artillery at the North's frontline tunnel bases. The North Korean military has positioned a slew of 170mm self-propelled and 240mm rocket artillery with a range of 50 to 65 kilometers at mountainous areas near the border with South Korea. Of them, 350 pieces can strike Seoul.

    • Unification Minister Hyun In-taek yesterday downplayed the June 15 and Oct. 4 inter-Korean declarations as "political statements," a remark that could further deteriorate ties with North Korea. "The accords are political declarations entailing basic directions of the inter-Korean relations. They are not documents that have received parliamentary ratification," Hyun said. He made the remark in response to a question about the accords by Rep. Choi Young-hee of the main opposition Democratic Party during the National Assembly's interpellation to the government.

    • On 16 Feb, conservative lawmakers urged the government to shift its position on North Korea's nuclear programs to better cope with what they called the de facto nuclear state. Hardliners have gained the upper hand in the legislature since North Korea announced that it will scrap all inter-Korean agreements and appeared to be preparing to test-fire a long-range missile. Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun of the governing Grand National Party (GNP) proposed the creation of a presidential body to manage the situation in case a North Korea-led nuclear crisis takes place on the peninsula.

    • The government has been reviewing legal action against civic group members who, despite repeated warnings, flew balloons filled with anti-North Korea leaflets and North Korean banknotes across the border on 16 Feb, the Ministry of Unification said. On 18 Feb, the unification minister asked the prosecutors office to investigate activists who sent North Korean currency over the border as part of an anti-Pyongyang campaign, in an alleged violation of South Korean law.

    • Recently, South Korea's Ministry of Unification totally blocked the exchange of news items with us proposed by the Press Headquarters of the South Side's Committee for Implementing the 15 June Joint Declaration, babbling about a security guarantee and whatnot.

    • A ranking North Korean official has admitted "there may be problems" in implementing the two inter-Korean summit accords but accused South Korea of completely opposing them, a British lawmaker said in a report on his recent Pyongyang visit. If confirmed, the alleged remark by Ri Jong-hyok, vice chairman of the Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, Pyongyang's arm on inter-Korean affairs, could be a sign that North Korea also believes part of the extensive economic and political agreements forged in 2000 and 2007 should be revised in terms of their technical implementation.

    • “Trains wish to run (to North Korea).” This is what a signboard read to mark the end of an inter-Korean railway at Shintan-ri Rail Station in Yeoncheon County, Gyeonggi Province. While inter-Korean tension has heightened in recent weeks, construction work continues around the station to reconnect Gyeongwon Railway, which symbolizes the dream of a reunified Korea. Workers were busy at work to lay the railway bed to increase the level of land 10 meters above normal, with a sign warning of landmines. In a tunnel, the centerpiece of the project for reconnecting the inter-Korean railway, heavy duty equipment broke off layers of rock amid a roaring sound with its two arms stretched out.

    • President Lee Myung-bak assembled the largest annual national security meeting on 17 Feb amid heightening fears of a North Korean provocation, the defense ministry said. The meeting, which drew roughly 200 top military, intelligence, law enforcement and local government officials, marked the first time that a South Korean leader has presided over it in five years. Begun in 1964 to coordinate security measures against North Korean spies, the meeting came amid worries the communist neighbor may test-fire a ballistic missile or trigger an armed clash along the western sea border.

    • South Korea will define North Korea as an "immediate and grave threat" to its national security in its forthcoming defense white paper, a spokesman said on 17 Feb, amid mounting tension along their heavily armed border. South Korea previously called North Korea an "immediate" or "grave" security threat in defense reports published in 2004 and 2006, but has never used the two terms simultaneously in a single white paper. "This year we have decided to term it a threat both grave and immediate," said Lee Bung-woo, a spokesman at the Ministry of National Defense.

    • North Korea may try to jolt its enemies with unexpected provocations along its heavily armed border with South Korea, the South's chairman of general staff said on 19 Feb. North Korea recently stepped up its bitter rhetoric against South Korea and warned of an armed clash near the U.N.-drawn Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the Yellow Sea -- the site of bloody naval clashes in 1999 and 2002. "We expect various scenarios of North Korean provocation, including at the NLL," Kim Tae-young, chairman of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a parliamentary hearing, citing a Chinese strategy that calls for attack after distracting enemy attention.

    • Dozens of women clad casually in sweatsuits chat cheerfully in their classroom during a recess period. It could be any classroom except for the tight security outside and the subject of the lectures – how to adapt to life in a new world. The South Korean government's Hanawon resettlement centre, ringed with fences and tightly guarded by police, is the first stop for North Koreans who have fled their impoverished hardline communist homeland.

    • It’s hard to imagine why someone would want to go back to North Korea – described by some defectors as “hell on earth” - after escaping the totalitarian regime that has the world’s worst human rights record. But some North Koreans are doing just that – volunteering to risk their lives to return to a hostile country in order to spread the Gospel. Underground University is a new project by Colorado Springs-based ministry Seoul USA that will train and equip North Korean defectors with tools they need to return to their homeland for ministry.

    • North Korea will hold its Arirang Festival, the world's largest mass gymnastics show, from August to mid-October, a US tour agency said on 17 Feb. Pyongyang has intermittently held the annual Arirang festival, named after Korea's famous folk song, since 2002, mobilizing some 100,000 people for synchronized acrobatics, gymnastics, dances and flip-card mosaic animations. The months-long show, also held in 2005 and 2008, is believed to bring in badly-needed foreign currency and promote the regime's socialism. A U.N. committee has expressed concerns at the mobilization of children for the event.

    • The population of North Korea totaled 24.05 million as of Oct. 2008, reported Radio Free Asia on 14 Feb, citing the preliminary census by the United Nations Population Fund. There were 11.72 million men and 12.33 million women. South Pyeongan Province was the most populated province, with 4.05 million and the capital city Pyongyang had 3.26 million people. North Korea conducted a census survey for the first time in 15 years since 1993 with the help of the UNFPA in October last year.

    • As the health condition of General Secretary Kim Jong-il of North Korea has been attracting attention, government officials in China, a state friendly to North Korea, have become edgy about the movements of countries concerned that are actively collecting information on North Korea. Chinese sources have revealed that a senior official at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences – a government-affiliated think tank – is being investigated on the suspicion that he might have leaked information on North Korea to South Korea, and that China is tightening control [over information to prevent leaks] by taking such measures as issuing instructions not to get in touch with people at foreign embassies and news media alone without getting permission.

    Friday, February 13, 2009

    In and Around North Korea: 07 - 13 February 2009

    • The US and North Korea are scheduled to have their first government-level meeting since President Barack Obama’s inauguration during the Northeast Asia Peace and Security Mechanism working group to be held in Moscow from 19 – 20 Feb. North Korea plans to send Jung Tae-yang, vice director general of the foreign ministry’s American bureau and the US will be represented by Deputy Assistance Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Alexander a. Arvizu.

    • A group of US experts, led by John Lewis, professor emeritus at Stanford University, plans to visit North Korea in late February for talks about the country’s denuclearization process, diplomatic sources said Monday (09 Feb). Lewis’ group will be the second private-sector US delegation to visit North Korea at a time when President Obama works to formulate his administration’s foreign policy. Among the members on the trip will be Siegfried Hecker, a nuclear weapons expert and co-director of Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation. Hecker last visited North Korea in Feb 08 where he met with North Korean Foreign Ministry officials.

    • A group of American experts on North Korean affairs, including former US ambassador to South Korea Stephen Bosworth, wrapped up a visit to the North that ended on Saturday (07 Feb). The group met with North Korean officials such as chief nuclear negotiator Kim Kye-gwan to exchange views on direct talks between Pyongyang and Washington and the North Korean nuclear issue. Bosworth stated that “[North Korea] said we should all wait and see,” and that “there were no threats, no indication that they were concerned.” He also stated that the group came away with the impression that the North wants to continue the nuclear disablement process. In reference to possible preparations for a missile test, Bosworth stated that North Korea “treated the missile issue as just a normal run-of-the-mill issue.”

    • North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun stated in a signed commentary on Saturday (07 Feb) that the “DPRK, a member of the international community, has an option to advance into space and a legitimate right to participate in the space scientific and technological race,” and that the “DPRK’s policy of advance into space and its use for peaceful purposes is just.” It noted that Iran’s recent satellite launch (03 Feb) has not only demonstrated its national power but also shown to the world that there can be no longer any monopoly on the use and development of space.

    • KCNA reported that on 11 Feb, Vice Marshal of the Korean People’s Army Kim Yong Chun was appointed as minister of the People’s Armed Forces of the National Defense Commission of the DPRK and KPA General Ri Yong Ho as chief of the KPA General Staff. The announcement comes earlier than expected, as South Korean analysts have largely forecast that North Korea may reshuffle its military after its parliamentary vote on 8 Mar and before the founding anniversary of the KPA on 25 Apr.

    • North Korea’s Korean Central Broadcasting Station reported on 06 Feb that Kim Jong-il inspected the command of KPA Large Combined Unit 324. He was accompanied by leading commanding officers of the army, including KPA Generals Hyon Chol Hae and Ri Myong Su. KCNA reported on 08 Feb that Kim Jong-il provided field guidance to the Rakwon Machine Complex, stressing the need for it to boost the manufacture of various types of machines products to include excavators and oxygen plants. KCNA reported on 11 Feb that Kim Jong-il inspected Unit 681 under the KPA Artillery Command and watched a firing exercise. Kim was accompanied by Vice Marshal Kim Yong Chun, KPA General Ri Yong Ho, Kim Ki Nam, secretary of the WPK Central Committee, and Chang Song-taek.

    • According to Western diplomatic source in China on 09 Feb, Director Wang Jiarui, Communist Party International Liaison Department director, during discussions with Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang on 23 Jan, reportedly was not able to find unusual signs, to include traces of a preoperative haircut or the use of a wig, indicating that Kim had received brain surgery.

    • An oath-taking rally took place in the Paektusan Secret Camp, the time-honored holy land of the Sun, on Thursday (12 Feb) to celebrate the birthday (16 Feb) of leader Kim Jong Il. Present there were senior officials of the party, the army and the state, leading officials of party and armed forces organs, ministries and national institutions and working people's organizations, servicepersons of the Korean People's Army (KPA), members of the 618 Construction Shock Brigade and officials and working people of Ryanggang Province. Led by KPA Vice Marshal Kim Yong Chun, vice-chairman of the DPRK National Defence Commission and minister of the People's Armed Forces, all the participants in the rally firmly vowed to share idea, will and destiny with Kim Jong Il and remain true to the WPK's songun (military-first) leadership.

    • A recent increase of post-Korean War generation hard-line military officials in the North Korean leadership may be behind escalated tensions on the peninsula, South Korean officials said yesterday The Unification Ministry on Wednesday issued a publication titled “2009 North Korea Power Elite,” analyzing 302 top North Korean officials. According to the report, 51 officials in the Workers’ Party, central government and military have been appointed since 2007. “We only analyzed confirmed personnel changes announced by the North Korean government or state media,” a Unification Ministry official said. “We did not rely on rumors or indirectly collected information. If we took into account such nonpublic information, the scope of the shake-up would have been even greater.”

    • On 10 Feb, Rodong Sinmun called for the “inheritance’ of the older generations’ economic drive to build a strong nation. Analysts stated that the recurring theme of inheritance in North Korean media appeared to be aimed at mobilizing young generations for the country’s economic drive while simultaneously disseminating the notion that Kim Jong-il’s power should be handed down to one of his sons.

    • Eqypt's largest telecommunications company, Orascom Telecom, commenced cell phone services at the end of last year in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. This is a joint venture business with a North Korean company, and reportedly garnered 5,000 subscribers in the first two weeks of operation. But the question is, “will cell phones gain widespread use under the totalitarian regime that rules North Korea?” According to Naguib Sawiris, the 54-year-old CEO of the Orascom Group, "This is the first step toward an open economy. Our business will be a success." At Orascom's headquarters building in Cairo, Sawiris spoke with conviction. "The government [of North Korea] has given the citizens permission to own cell phones. This is a major change. They are serious about opening up the economy. That is why we decided to invest [in this project]."

    • Tessa Morris-Suzuki, professor of Japanese history at Australian National University, stated that about 200 North Korean defectors have settled in Japan in recent years with most of them being Korean-Japanese who moved to North Korea from Japan for more than two decades from the late 1950s. Suzuki expected more will follow suit to return to Japan amid worsening economic conditions in North Korea.

    • US Defense Secretary (SECDEF) Robert M. Gates spoke with members of the press during a briefing at the Pentagon on 10 Feb (EST – 11 Feb Korea Standard Time). During the briefing, the SECDEF addressed North Korea’s possible preparations for a missile launch and stated that during the last missile launch, the North Korean missile “flew for a few minutes before crashing” and that “the range of the Taepo Dong II remains to be seen.” The SECDEF also stated, “it would be nice if North Korea would focus on getting positive messages across to…its negotiating partners about verification and moving forward with the denuclearization.” In response to the question, “The last time the North Koreans tried to shoot a Taepo Dong, the missile defense system was put on alert and the US was prepared to shoot it down if it came in the direction of American Territory. Do you intend to do the same if the North Koreans proceed with their preparations?” SECDEF Gates stated that he intends to make sure that the Secretary of State, national security adviser, President and Vice President understand what “our capabilities are, and that that's an option out there should we deem it necessary.”

      Comment: While US reporting stated that the SECDEF played down the notion that any Taepodong-2 launch would pose a danger to the US, ROK media coverage focused on the SECDEF’s comment that the US possesses the capability to intercept the North Korean missile should it become necessary. Although North Korean media have not yet responded to SECDEF Gates’ tatement, “KCNA” and “Minju Josun” released articles on 10 Feb attacking SECDEF Gates and his support of the “Reliable Replacement Warhead” (RRW).

    • Yonhap reported on 11 Feb that a South Korean source stated that “vehicles carrying equipment needed for missile launches are continuing to travel to the Musudan-ri base,” and that “at the current pace, [North Korea] could inject fuel within a month.” CNN reported on 11 Feb that according to a senior U.S. official, an image by a U.S. spy satellite revealed North Korea was “assembling telemetry equipment at the site” and “that so far, there is no direct evidence of a missile being moved to the launch pad.”

    • A Pakistani court freed Abdul Qadeer Khan, one of the most successful nuclear proliferators in history, from house arrest on Friday (06 Feb), lifting the restrictions imposed on him since 2004 when he publicly confessed to running an illicit nuclear network. According to a 10 Feb statement by State Department spokesman Robert Wood, Deputy Secretary Steinberg met with the Pakistani foreign minister in Munich and expressed the U.S. concern about the court decision and that the Deputy Secretary received assurances from the Pakistani Government that Mr. Khan would not continue to be a proliferation threat.

    • South Korean government officials believe that the most likely provocation during North Korea’s current grandstanding could be the test-firing of short-range missiles across the Northern Limit Line (NLL). North Korea has a surface-to-surface missile base on Chodo Island, Hwanghae province, from which it test-fired missiles in Oct 08. Officials also stated that there could be inter-Korean naval skirmishes along the NLL or although highly unlikely, a possible test-fire of mid-range missiles at the open sea near Jeju Island.

    • On 10 Feb, Yonhap reported that a South Korean official at the Joint Chiefs of Staff stated that it was true that no Chinese boats have been spotted since 04 Feb and that there were no unusual military movements north of the border. Thus far, USFK J2/JIOC-K OSINT observed three Chinese Internet posts that support the defense official’s statement. On 23 Jan, the Shandong Marine Fishing and Production Management Station released a warning on its website urging fishing boats to “resolutely refrain from illegal fishing operations in waters in the DPRK-ROK sea border” as “military conflicts could arise easily under the tense relations between the DRPK and the ROK.” The warning applied to both the West and East coasts. The Weihai Economic and Technological Development Zone and the General Office of Ganjingzi District Government carried similar warnings on their websites on 04 and 06 Feb respectively.

    • Hyun In-taek, the ROK Unification Minister nominee, defended South Korea’s tough North Korea policy during his parliamentary hearing on Monday (09 Feb), rebutting harsh criticism with offers to change Pyongyang’s hostile stance through dialogue amid heightened inter-Korean tension. Hyun vowed to consider humanitarian aid and respect inter-Korean summit accords, but his broad commitment failed to dispel the skepticism voiced by the opposition over his suitability. Hyun, a political science professor at Korea University, was the major architect of the Denuclearization, Openness, 3000 campaign, which seeks to help North Korea raise its gross domestic income to $3,000 if it abandons its nuclear program.

    • Seoul's new unification minister said Thursday (12 Feb) he will seek to resume humanitarian aid and meet with North Korean officials to mend inter-Korean relations, but retained his tough message on the North's nuclear weapons program. Hyun In-taek, a hawkish foreign policy expert, took over the post from a moderate official amid escalating tension along the inter-Korean border. "For the peace of the Korean Peninsula and the advancement of inter-Korean relations, I am willing to meet and talk with North Korea's responsible officials anytime, anywhere, on any agenda and in any form," Hyun said at his inauguration ceremony.

    • South Korea needs to strengthen its early warning system with regard to North Korea, the country's new spy chief said Thursday (12 Feb), calling for full preparations against security threats. "We need to beef up an early warning system to cope with any moves by North Korea," Won Sei-hoon, the head of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), told his staff. "We also have to fully prepare for any terror and international crimes." Won, a former minister of public administration and security, was appointed by President Lee Myung-bak last month to head the spy agency.

    • Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone visited South Korea (09 – 10 Feb) to meet with his counterpart, Yu Myung Hwan, and President Lee Myung Bak. At the conclusion of talks on 10 Feb, Japan and South Korea agreed on concrete plans for joint assistance for Afghan reconstruction and close cooperation in antipiracy operations in Somali waters. They also reaffirmed the importance of close trilateral cooperation with the US and the need for progress in the denuclearization of North Korea through the six-party talks. Both ministers shared concerns over North Korea’s recent series of harsh remarks and urged North Korea to “behave in a way that would contribute to the region’s stability.”

    • South Korean brigadier general Chun In-bum told reporters that the US and South Korea are pushing to adopt a new war plan against North Korea to reflect the change in the decades-old military alliance and that the war plan will be tested during the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise in August this year.

    • U.S. Secretary of State Clinton stated at a news conference on 10 Feb that she hopes North Korea’s recent rhetoric is not a “precursor of any action that would up the ante, or threaten the stability and peace and security” in the region. Secretary of State Clinton is scheduled to make her first visit to Asia as secretary of state next week (16-22 Feb).

    • A British lawmaker just back from a visit to Pyongyang urged the new US administration on Wednesday (11 Feb) to normalize ties with North Korea as part of a broader approach to the communist state. Lord David Alton called for joint international efforts to address the North's human rights record and humanitarian issues and not just its nuclear weapons programme. "The creation of a US embassy in Pyongyang should be a top priority for the incoming (US) dministration," Alton, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, said in a written presentation to South Korea's parliament.

    Friday, February 6, 2009

    In and Around North Korea: 31 January - 06 February 2009

    • US President Barack Obama on Tuesday (3 Feb) vowed to increase support for six-nation talks on ending North Korea's nuclear program, saying recent developments suggest the multilateral talks are the only way to denuclearize the communist nation, a spokesman for the South Korean presidential office said. The remarks came in a telephone conversation between the U.S. president and his South Korean counterpart Lee Myung-bak.

    • North Korea and its five dialogue partners in ongoing denuclearization talks will convene the third meeting on the Northeast Asia peace and security mechanism from Feb. 19-20 in Moscow, officials said Monday (2 Feb). The meeting comes despite a stall in broader talks over the North's nuclear program and would mark the first high-profile gathering of the six nations since new U.S. President Barack Obama took office. Obama's policy on North Korea has not taken final shape as key appointments have yet to be made and with the two Koreas taking a wait-and-see attitude.

    • North Korea vowed Monday (2 Feb) to hold onto its nuclear weapons until the United States removes "nuclear threats" against it, renewing its tough position after similar statements drew little action from the new U.S. administration. Pyongyang has continued unleashing acerbic statements to justify its nuclear drive since January, raising military tensions across the inter-Korean border. Seoul and Washington have reacted calmly.

    • The North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland declared that it would scrap the political and military agreements between the South and the North, along with the western sea border. North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said that Pyongyang would think about denuclearization after normalizing ties with Washington. Even then, denuclearization will be discussed not within the six-party framework but through talks among nuclear states, making it clear that it would continue to hold on to its nuclear weapons.

    • On 1 Feb, Constituency No. 333, during a voters’ meeting held at the April 25 House of Culture, nominated Kim Jong-il as a candidate for deputy to the 12th Supreme People’s Assembly. Present were Jo Myong Rok, director of the General Political Bureau of the KPA, Kim Kyo'k-sik, chief of the General Staff of the KPA and others and leading officials of the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces and officers and men of the KPA.

    • Kim Jong-il provided field guidance to the Ryesonggang Youth Power Station No. 1 and inspected a sub-unit of KPA Unit 131, its state media reported on Saturday (31 Jan). With regards to his inspection of the military unit, the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that he “acquainted himself with the training of the sub-unit before watching its soldiers’ training,” and “after watching the training, he expressed satisfaction over the fact that all the service persons have grown to be stalwart fighters firmly prepared politically and ideologically and in military technique to shatter any surprise invasion of the enemy at a single blow and reliably defend the socialist homeland to set forth the tasks to be carried out to increase the sub-unit’s combat capability.

    • North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told a Chinese official who recently visited Pyongyang that he is waiting to see the policies of the new U.S. administration, in what was believed to be an indication his country will not make major moves until they become clear, diplomatic sources said Wednesday (4 Feb). The comments, made to Wang Jiarui, head of the Chinese Communist Party's International Department, are the first known to have come from the leader about the U.S. administration since President Barack Obama took office in late January.

    • A British parliamentary delegation arrived in Pyongyang Tuesday (3 Feb), the North's news agency said, in a visit coinciding with a rare trip by a U.S. team of former government officials and experts. KCNA made no mention of the expected arrival of the U.S. group, including former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Stephen Bosworth, who is reportedly on a list of candidates for special envoy to Pyongyang. The visit is the first civilian exchange between the two countries since U.S. President Barack Obama took office last month. The KCNA said the British delegation, led by the House of Lords' David Alton, was greeted by Ri Jong-hyok, deputy to the North's Supreme People's Assembly, in Pyongyang's airport. It did not reveal the purpose of the trip.

    • The series of events to celebrate the "Year of DPRK-China Friendship" in 2009 will help deepen the friendship between the two peoples and expand bilateral ties, the foreign minister of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) said Monday (2 Feb). The DPRK and China, the two close neighbors linked by common mountains and rivers, have enjoyed a long history of friendly cooperation, Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun said in a written interview with Xinhua.

    • Military-owned telecom firm Viettel plans to expand its network to North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela, a company official said. Tran Phuoc Minh, deputy director of the unlisted telecom service provider in Ho Chi Minh City, said the company is considering getting a foothold in these countries, which are in the early stages of telecom development. Viettel would hold negotiations with authorities there, Minh said without giving details. The country’s fastest growing telecom service provider already has a presence in Laos and Cambodia and is set to open a representative office in Myanmar.

    • Koryolink, the North Korean 3G cellular network established in mid-December by Egypt's Orascom Telecom, has attracted several thousand subscribers in the first two weeks since it began accepting applications in January. "We didn't start sales until about two weeks ago," said Naguib Sawiris, chairman of Orascom Telecom in a telephone interview. "So far we have about 6,000 applications. The important point is that they are normal citizens, not the privileged or miliary generals or party higher-ups. For the first time they have been able to go to a shop and get a mobile phone." Orascom has a single shop in Pyongyang and is in the process of expanding its sales network, he said.

    • North Korea's state media said Wednesday (4 Feb) that China has offered Pyongyang aid, a deal that was likely reached at a recent meeting between reclusive leader Kim Jong Il and a senior Chinese official. KCNA said in a brief dispatch that the aid will be "an encouragement" to North Koreans in their efforts to build "a great, prosperous, powerful nation." It did not say what kind or how much aid China had offered. The impoverished communist country has resorted to outside handouts to help feed its 23 million people since its centrally controlled economy collapsed in the mid-1990s due to natural disasters and mismanagement. With the public announcement, analysts say, North Korea is showing off the close relationship it has with its key socialist ally. Pyongyang is also sending a message to Seoul's Lee Myung-bak administration that it won't soften its stance on inter-Korean relations in its search for economic aid, they said. “North Korea is saying it will find a way out through China and won't be squeezed by the Lee government's hardline policy," Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea studies professor at Dongguk University, said.

    • South Korea is struggling to determine when it should send 3,000 tons of steel plates to North Korea, confronted with the communist neighbor's intensifying saber-rattling, government officials in Seoul said Wednesday (4 Feb). The South initially planned to send the shipment, equivalent to 11,000 tons of heavy fuel oil, sometime this month, as part of its promised contribution to an aid-for-denuclearization deal signed in 2007.

    • North Korea's food-related trouble is likely to continue despite a relatively good harvest last year, a leading U.S. expert on the communist nation's economy said Thursday (5 Feb). "It is too early to break out the champagne," Marcus Noland, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said in an e-mail commentary, amid speculation here that Pyongyang's latest bellicose behavior might be spurred by confidence from an improving food situation there. “The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that North Korean grain production fell for three consecutive harvests, reaching 3.43 million metric tons in 2008-2009," he said. "The good harvests should be treated with caution. Overall grain balances in North Korea remain perilously close to the survival margin." His gloomy outlook came in spite of Washington's shipments of close to 5,000 tons of rice earlier this month to the North as part of its commitment of up to half a million tons of grain.

    • According to a report entitled "Situation Report on the Rights of the Child in the DPRK (North Korea)"by the Seoul-based Citizen's Alliance for North Korean Human Rights and The Asia Center for Human Rights, North Korea forcibly mobilizes its children as cheap labor, diverts their food aid and throws minors into detention centers because their parents have run afoul of the law. The report further states that the North's failing school system has led to an increase in drop-outs and illiteracy in the impoverished state.

    • The number of North Korean refugees arriving in Thailand via China has risen sharply since the Beijing Olympics, Yomiuri Shimbun reported Wednesday (4 Feb). Thailand is the main transit place for North Koreans before they move to South Korea. Thai police statistics quoted by the Japanese daily show a mere 140 North Koreans arrested there between January and August last year. But in the period from September to November after the Beijing Olympics, 250 North Koreans were arrested in 14 areas in northern and northeastern Thailand bordering Burma and Laos. The number of North Koreans arrested in December and January this year is not known yet, but the paper said a large number of North Koreans entered Thailand around the Lunar New Year's Day, on Jan. 26.

    • Sankei Shimbun first reported on 03 Feb that North Korea is preparing to launch the Taepodong-2. The article stated that satellites of the US and others have spotted trucks frequenting a missile facility newly under construction in Tongch'ang-ri, North P'yo'ngan Province, and that it is highly possible that preparations will be completed in one to two months. Subsequent Yonhap reporting referenced the US and ROK intelligence agencies and that an unnamed ROK official at the Ministry of National Defense stated “The intelligence report by Japan appears grounded on facts."

    • The United States Tuesday (3 Feb) warned North Korea not to test fire a ballistic missile, saying any such launch would be in violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution. "I mean, obviously, the testing of missiles by North Korea would be in violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said in a daily news briefing. The spokesperson was responding to reports that North Korea is preparing to test launch a long-range missile capable of reaching the mainland U.S., in an apparent effort to attract the attention of the new U.S. administration.

    • The top U.S. military officer has expressed concern about recent threats out of Pyongyang against South Korea timed with the launch of the Barack Obama administration in Washington. Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged in a speech Monday (2 Feb) at a college in Grove City, Pennsylvania the "possibility of pretty severe instability" with North Korea's weapons. He said that listening to the rhetoric out of Pyongyang is a cause for "big concern," adding, "it's not going away real quick." Mullen was discussing Pyongyang's threats to cut ties with Seoul and its announcement that it was adopting "an all-out confrontational posture" against the South. U.S. and South Korean intelligence officials believe the North is preparing to test-launch a ballistic missile capable of reaching western parts of the mainland U.S.

    • The top U.S. commander in South Korea urged North Korea on Wednesday (4 Feb) to stop raising tension on the divided peninsula, amid intelligence reports the communist state is gearing up to test-fire its most advanced missile. Seoul officials said earlier this week that U.S. and South Korean intelligence agencies have spotted a North Korean train carrying what is believed to be a ballistic missile capable of hitting U.S. territory, adding a launch could come after a month or two of preparation.

    • South Korean defense officials said Wednesday (4 Feb) they last spotted what they believe to be North Korea's most advanced missile on the isolated state's east coast, dampening speculation a launch may take place at a brand-new site on the opposite side of the country. A train carrying the object in question "was last seen stationed at the Musudan-ri site" in the northeastern region, an official at the Ministry of National Defense said. North Korea has test-fired two of its longest-range missiles there since 1998. South Korean intelligence had briefly lost track of the train after it pulled out of a military factory site south of Pyongyang, a senior ministry official said late Tuesday, declining to be identified because the information was classified.

    • Despite North Korea’s statement of an “all-out confrontational posture” towards South Korea made on the 17th of January, North Korea appears not to be preparing to spark a military conflict, since there has not been any change of military movements detected by intelligence. North Korea has been creating tension by declaring the abolition of the Northern Limit Line (NLL), threatening to wipe out the South Korean government, and denunciating all agreements made between the two Koreas to date. However, spokesperson from the Ministry of National Defense Won Tae Jae explained yesterday, “In the sea near the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), the North Korean Army has not threatened South Korea. No strange acts have been noted.” Military experts presume that the possibility of provoking a war in the short term is low because no movements required for a war, like increasing communications or supply movements, have been intercepted near the frontier.

    • Hyundai Asan Corp, the South Korean company operating businesses in North Korea, said Wednesday (4 Feb) it will make major efforts to resume tours to the North's scenic mountain in April, despite worsening inter-Korean ties. The chance of resuming the tours to the North's Mount Kumgang, which have been suspended since July last year when a South Korean tourist was fatally shot by a North Korean soldier, appears remote however, as Pyongyang recently took a series of actions to potentially inflame tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

    • South Korea's main opposition party on Wednesday (4 Feb) urged its government to earmark at least 5 percent of its annual budget for aid to North Korea and take other reconciliatory measures to improve inter-Korean relations. In a parliamentary address, Rep. Won Hye-young, floor leader of the Democratic Party, said that closer cross-border economic cooperation is the only path to revitalizing the South Korean economy.
    • The South Korean government decided not to approve a project by a Seoul journalist organization to exchange news with North Korea, concerned that Pyongyang may use the medium for its own propaganda, officials were quoted as saying by Yonhap on Wednesday (4 Feb). The decision appeared to be in line with the conservative Lee Myung-bak government's hardline policy amid deeply frozen inter-Korean relations. The journalist association said it may take the case to court.

    • South Korea warned rights activists Wednesday (4 Feb) they will face a criminal investigation if they break new restrictions on the launch of propaganda leaflets into North Korea. The activists, who have staged several previous launches, plan to attach North Korean banknotes to some leaflets in future to encourage people on the other side of the heavily fortified border to pick them up. The Seoul government has urged groups to halt the launch of the giant gas-filled balloons carrying hundreds of thousands of flyers, saying they are further straining ties with the communist North. Seoul says it has no laws to ban the launches but attaching North Korean won would be illegal because government approval is required to bring the currency into the South.

    • In his New Year’s press conference on 2 Feb, Democratic Party Chairman Chung Sye-kyun urged President Lee Myung-bak to send an envoy to North Korea to seek a breakthrough in the dire state of inter-Korean relations, linking heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula to the stability of the nation’s economy. “Peace on the Korean Peninsula is not an issue of ideology, but one of economy,” Chung said, adding that tensions have reached a new peak after the North’s recent announcement that it will scrap all inter-Korean agreements. “The current confrontational situation is too serious to be regarded as a bluff [by the North],” Chung said. “If there is a military conflict, our economy will suffer a serious blow.”

    • North Korean officials have expressed their willingness to normalize relations between their country and the United States, a U.S. scholar who last month met them in North Korea said Wednesday (4 Feb). Selig Harrison, Asia Program director at the Washington-based Center for International Policy, made the revelation in a speech about his visit to the reclusive nation. He quoted the North Korean officials, including Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun and Ri Gun, director general of the Foreign Ministry's American Affairs Bureau, as saying that North Korea and the United States can become close friends once Washington alters its policy toward Pyongyang. They were also quoted as saying that when North Korea abandons its nuclear weapons capabilities depends on when the country can rest assured that it is no longer under U.S. nuclear threat.

    • The U.S. State Department in the Federal Resister on Monday (2 Feb) confirmed sanctions banning three North Korean entities from trade with the U.S. for two years. The three are Korea Mining and Development Corp., Mokong Trading Corp. and Sino-Ki. The new U.S. administration has decided to maintain sanctions against the three firms, which the Bush administration accused of missile technology proliferation activities. The decision came nearly simultaneously with reports that North Korea is preparing to test-fire medium-range missiles, suggesting that the Obama administration still sees Pyongyang as a "rogue state" despite its removal from the list of states sponsoring terrorism.

    • The top foreign policy secretary to South Korean President Lee Myung-bak will likely visit Washington next week for discussions on a possible summit between Lee and his new U.S. counterpart and other issues that will determine the shape of the alliance under the new U.S. administration, sources said Monday (2 Feb). Kim Sung-hwan, if he takes the trip, will be the highest-ranking South Korean official to visit the United States since new U.S. President Barack Obama was inaugurated last month. "The date has not been fixed, but it will likely be around the 12th" of February, a source said.

    • A U.S expert on Korea Wednesday (4 Feb) urged the Obama administration to move quickly to engage North Korea and push ahead with denuclearization talks so the communist state does not feel abandoned. Scott Snyder, director of the center for U.S.-Korea policy at the Asia Foundation, said, "I think there is a need to communicate with the DPRK, to give some message to let them know they have not been forgotten. Otherwise we may miss another opportunity." Snyder took former U.S. President Bill Clinton as an example, saying "If the whole process had begun earlier then, maybe he might have gone (to Pyongyang)."

    • U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit Japan, February 16 through 18; Indonesia, February 18 through 19; the Republic of Korea, February 19 through 20; and China, February 20 through 22. In all capitals, the Secretary will be discussing common approaches to the challenges facing the international community, including the financial markets’ turmoil, humanitarian issues, security, and climate change. According to Chosun Ilbo, Christopher Hill will reportedly accompany the Secretary of State on her East Asia tour.

    Thursday, February 5, 2009

    Two Birds with One Stone: Attention from the US; Conciliation from the ROK

    On 30 Jan, the North Korean Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Fatherland (CPRF) issued a statement that is will “nullify” 1) “all the agreed points concerning the issue of putting an end to the political and military confrontation between the north and the south”; and 2) the Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-aggression, Cooperation and Exchange between the North and the South and the points on the military boundary line – the Northern Limit Line (NLL) – in the West Sea (Yellow Sea) stipulated in its appendix.” In the statement, North Korea blasted the Republic of Korea (ROK) government and said the hard-line policies of Lee Myung-bak forced it to nullify the accords. The CPRF, a body handling inter-Korean affairs in North Korea, said in the statement that "the group of traitors has already reduced all the agreements reached between the north and the south in the past to dead documents. … Under such situation it is self-evident that there is no need for the DPRK to remain bound to those north-south agreements.” This statement shapely raised tensions between the two Koreas and raised the possibility of a naval clash in the West Sea. The ROK government expressed “deep regret” about the statement and encouraged North Korea to agree to a dialogue with the South, which the North has rejected.

    The 30 Jan statement is the second threatening statement North Korea has made this year that mentioned the NLL.

    On 17 Jan, a spokesman of the North Korean People's Army (KPA) General Staff issued a statement announcing that because the Lee Myung-bak government of South Korea has continued to insist on a hostile policy toward North Korea and it will conduct "all-out confrontation" against the South.

    Though the North Korean Naval Command routinely protests movements by the ROK vessels close to the NLL in the West Sea (Yellow Sea), it does not complain as frequently about the ROK vessels’ movement across the North’s claimed demarcation line – which is well south of the NLL.

    Indeed, a North Korean military provocation against the South near the NLL (or other actions that could be perceived as provocative) in the future cannot be ruled out; however, it is more likely that these pronouncements are intended to pressure the South to adapt more conciliatory policies toward the North while garnering attention from the new US administration.

    Recent Developments Surrounding North Korea Leading up to the 30 Jan CPRF Statement:

    • Weeks prior to the US inauguration, North Korea offered to send a top diplomat to the inauguration, which the US rejected on 12 Jan.

    • On 13 Jan, a spokesman for the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement that the US should first normalize relations with North Korea as a precondition for its denuclearization and that it will hold onto its nuclear weapons as long as the US backs the ROK with its own atomic arsenal. The statement also demanded that if “the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is the issue to be settled only when the DPRK shows nuclear weapons,” then North Korea must be able to also verify the presence of nuclear weapons in the ROK as well and that the same rule should be applied to US troops stationed in the ROK.

    • On 15 Jan, the ROK government rejected the North’s demand as “distorted.”

    • On 16 Jan, North Korea issued another strong statement directed at the US about retaining nuclear weapons. The North stated that it will boost its nuclear deterrent and maintain its nuclear weapons as longs as it remains under a nuclear threat from the US.

    • On 17 Jan, North Korea escalated its saber rattling against the ROK with a threatening statement from the KPA General Staff.

    • On 19 Jan, the ROK’s unification minister-designate, Hyun In-taek, said he will work more closely with the US in dealing with North Korea, as he prepared to take over the post amid the worst inter-Korean relations in a decade. Hyun, a university professor named as the ROK’s top policymaker on North Korea, sounded tough in line with the ROK President Lee Myung-bak's hard-line stance toward the North, a departure from his moderate predecessor who focused on persuading North Korea to engage in talks. Unlike other major North Korea experts, Hyun prioritizes the ROK's alliance with the US over reconciliation with North Korea and advocates international consensus as the starting point in dealing with the North.

    • On 21 Jan, the White House stated that the new Barack Obama administration will get rid of North Korea's nuclear weapons programs "through tough and direct diplomacy." According to a foreign policy agenda posted on the White House Web site, the administration plans to "use tough diplomacy – backed by real incentives and real pressures – to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and to eliminate fully and verifiably North Korea's nuclear weapons program." The Web posting came one day after President Obama said in his inauguration ceremony on 20 Jan that "with old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat."

    • On 23 Jan, Xinhua News Agency reported that Kim Jong-il said he wanted a nuclear free Korean peninsula, declaring his willingness to work with China to push forward the six-party process. Kim stated, “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is committed to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and hopes to live in peace with all other sides. … We don’t want to see tension emerge in the situation on the peninsula, and we are willing to strengthen coordination and cooperation with China and push forward the six-party process without interruption.” The US and the ROK welcomed Kim Jong-il’s reported commitment.

    • On 26 Jan, former US President Jimmy Carter said he believes North Korea would be willing to give up its nuclear weapons for US diplomatic recognition, a peace deal with the ROK and the US, and if it got new atomic power reactors and free fuel oil. Former President Carter said in an interview with the Associated Press that "It could be worked out, in my opinion, in half a day."

    • On 27 Jan, the US Secretary of State Clinton said that six-party talks are "essential" to ending North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions and that North Korea's nuclear proliferation should be resolved quickly through direct diplomacy of the US if necessary.

    • On 30 Jan, North Korea’s CPRF stated that the North is scrapping all political and military agreements with the ROK and declared the NLL void. The ROK responded to the North’s threat with a warning of its own, stating that any attempt by North Korea to violate the NLL will face firm counteraction.

    North Korean Rhetoric about the NLL from Jan 99 – Jan 09: For the past 10 years, North Korea has issued over 200 statements (rhetoric and threats) regarding the NLL through diplomatic channels, KPA delegation stationed at the Joint Security Area (JSA), as well as its state and affiliated media outlets. (See Graph 1) All of the statements issued from 1999 – 2008 (202 statements) have been in response to specific past or upcoming events rather than precursors of North Korean contrived events. Almost all of the statements were in response to major ROK-US combined military exercises; naval clashes between the North and South Korean navies; and disputes between the North and South Korean fishing boats during the blue crab fishing seasons. Only North Korean statements related to NLL that were not in response to specific events were issued in 2009 (five reports – the 17 Jan KPA General Staff pronouncement and four reports that referred to the pronouncement). The 30 Jan CPRF statement seems to be a response to the ROK’s and the US’ lack of appropriate action to the 17 Jan statement. (See Graph 2)

    Significance of 17 Jan Pronouncement: The KPA General Staff pronouncements have been used to announce increased states of military readiness in the past, and only two have been observed in the past 10 years. Both of the KPA pronouncements were issued in response to a specific event. In Dec 98, a KPA General Staff spokesman’s statement responded to “third country” media reports about Operation Plan 5027 – what Pyongyang describes as US-ROK preparations for “northward aggression” – saying although we do not want a war, we also will not avoid a war.” In Sep 99, KPA General Staff special communiqué delineated the North’s West Sea military demarcation line (MDL) in response to a deadly Jun 99 North-South naval clash.

    The North has often adopted “postures” to raise tension, but it is unusual to place the KPA on an “all-out confrontation posture”. The reference to this heightened “posture” presumably correlates with a higher-state of readiness and it should be noted that this higher-state of readiness coincides with North Korea’s annual Winter Training Cycle (WTC) for its armed forces.
    The announcement’s warning that “strong military countermeasures … will follow” is more categorical than typical North Korean military warnings. Of significance is that there is no language indicating the North intends to start a war. The statement did not threaten the ROK islands immediately south of the NLL, nor did it have the usual blood and guts tone of the bellicose statements designed to increase tension across the Peninsula – it focused primarily on the disputed area off the west coast. This is not a new threat although it is more pointed and explicit.

    Overall, the North made no commitment to do anything within any time frame throughout the statement. It also did not lay out any specific requirements on the part of the ROK to take action, or a set of actions, in order to defuse the threat.

    It seems North Korea issued the 17 Jan pronouncement fully anticipating that the ROK government will continue its hard-line North Korean policies and largely ignore the North’s bluster while putting its military on a higher alert status, which will then allow the North to claim that “the ROK government has failed to respond to Pyongyang’s warnings.”

    Another significant aspect of the 17 Jan statement is that it explicitly said it was aimed at both the internal and external audiences. This year’s New Year’s Joint Editorial hinted that North Korea is concerned about discipline issues in the KPA. I may be that the North Korean leadership sees tension with the ROK as a way to help focus its armed forces and instill discipline.

    30 Jan CPRF Statement –
    For the US: Weeks prior to the US inauguration, North Korea offered to send a top diplomat to the inauguration, which the US rejected on 12 Jan. Four days after the rejection (16 Jan), North Korea issued a strong statement directed at the US about retaining nuclear weapons. The next day (17 Jan), it escalated its saber rattling with a threatening statement against the Republic of Korea (ROK). The sequence of these statements suggests they may be reactions to the diplomatic snub. The quick publications of the statements against the US and the ROK – which the North sees as the proxy of the US – may also signify North Korea had these in preparation in the event of rejection (which implies it had a separate set of statements ready had the US accepted what the North considered a gesture of conciliation).

    Between 21 and 27 Jan, the US stated, via multiple channels, that it is willing to work within the Six-Party framework, as well as through direct diplomacy with North Korea, to verify and eliminate fully North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

    On 23 Jan, Kim Jong-il stated, “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is committed to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and hopes to live in peace with all other sides. … We don’t want to see tension emerge in the situation on the peninsula, and we are willing to strengthen coordination and cooperation with China and push forward the six-party process without interruption.”

    Given that North Korea has been attempting to maintain itself at the top of the new US administration’s international agenda for some time, the 30 Jan CPRF statement appears to be in part political positioning designed to convey to the new US administration, in strongest terms, that while North Korea will conduct negotiations with the US, it still is a force to be reckoned with.

    For the ROK: Since the election and inauguration of the Lee Myung-bak administration in the South, North Korea’s rhetoric and threat against the ROK have increased significantly when compared to the previous two ROK administrations. The inter-Korean relation is at its coolest in over ten years. The North claims the Lee government is the root cause of this chilled relationship.

    For the past two ROK administrations, North Korea has enjoyed a conciliatory relationship with the ROK under the Sunshine Policy of Kim Dae-jung, and later the Peace and Prosperity Policy of Roh Moo-hyun, The ROK government under the Kim and Roh administrations was sensitive to the North’s threats and demands, and reacted appropriately – in North’s view – to much of its demands.

    With the launching of the Lee administration, the relationship between the two Koreas became frosty quickly. Unlike the previous two ROK administrations, the Lee administration has chosen to take a tough stance against the North, insisting the relationship between the two Koreas must be based on “reciprocity and North Korea’s willingness to disarm its nuclear arsenal.”

    In response, North Korea has been consistently releasing rhetoric and threats against the ROK government through diplomatic channels, KPA delegation stationed at the Joint Security Area (JSA), as well as its state and affiliated media outlets. The frequency and belligerent tone of the North Korean rhetoric and threats have increased throughout 2008, culminating with the 24 Nov 08 announcement of five “punitive” measures (which was implemented on 01 Dec 08) as a retaliation to the ROK’s “anti-republic” and “anti-unification” policies.

    In the face of the North’s increasingly belligerent and frequent rhetoric and threats, the ROK government has not wavered and adheres to its hard-line policy. As expected, the ROK government largely ignored the 17 Jan KPA pronouncement as just another series of provocative sound-bites.

    The 30 Jan CPRF statement appears to be, among other purposes, a response to the lack of ROK reaction to the 17 Jan KPA statement, designed to elevate the pressure on the ROK to induce a change in the South’s North Korea policy.

    Conclusion: The use of a highly authoritative statement on 17 Jan and the issuance of the highly provocative statement on 30 Jan certainly are intended to underscore the gravity with which North Korea views the current inter-Korean and international political situation.

    Recent series of rhetoric and threats surrounding the NLL seems to be a set of political maneuvering on the part of North Korea. A continuing leitmotif of North Korean regional foreign policy is its aim to establish diplomatic relations with the US while isolating the ROK from the regional diplomatic and security forums. The statements from 17 and 30 Jan served as a vehicle to maintain the US’ focus in the region and engagement with the North to bring to fruition Kim Jong-il’s deep seated desire to normalize diplomatic relations with the US. Through the same two statements, the North has conveyed the ROK administration its mounting displeasure about the current ROK policy on North Korea.

    Politically, North Korea has more to lose than gain if there is a military clash between the North and the South (along the NLL or anywhere else on the Korean Peninsula); however, the possibility of provocation (real or perceived) and/or miscalculation induced clash certainly does exist if the current trend of elevated tensions between the two Koreas continues.

    If North Korea truly believes provocation is the right path to take in order to gain the attentions of the US and the ROK (of course it will gain the attention of the international community as well), it is more likely the North would conduct a ballistic missile test rather than contrive a tactical military skirmish.