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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

North Korea’s Missile Launch: The Risks of Overreaction

In the latest International Crisis Group's (ICG) Asia Briefing, published 31 Mar, the report states that a tough response to North Korea’s rocket launch would likely result in the demise of the talks to end its nuclear program and could risk a potentially devastating war, damaging to South Korea, Japan and the world economy.

North Korea’s Missile Launch: The Risks of Overreaction, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines North Korea’s provocation and the way it leaves Japan, South Korea and the U.S. few good options. The prospective launch fits a pattern of North Korean attention-seeking when faced with stresses at home, political changes abroad or failure to get what it wants in negotiations.

“Even if the missile launch test is successful, it would only slightly increase security risks, while an overblown response would likely jeopardise the Six-Party Talks to end North Korea’s nuclear program”, says Gareth Evans, Crisis Group’s President. “What is needed is a calm, coordinated response from the key actors to raise pressure on Pyongyang to return to the talks rather than a divided reaction that only fulfils the North’s desire to widen splits among its neighbors.”

Security Council Resolution 1695 demands that North Korea not launch any missile, but Pyongyang argues – with support from some Security Council members – that this does not extend to a satellite rocket launch permitted under the Outer Space Treaty, and the legal issues are inconclusive.

An overreaction to the test that prompts the North to abandon the Six-Party Talks would strengthen hardliners in Pyongyang. The other five members of the Six-Party Talks should agree to a moderate set of measures that maintains their unity in the face of North Korea’s provocation. They could do this by issuing a joint statement condemning the launch as provocative in the current tense climate, reaffirming Security Council Resolutions 1695 and 1718, and demanding that North Korea return to the Six-Party Talks.

South Korea, the United States and Japan should agree on an overall package deal in exchange for major steps forward in nuclear and missile disarmament. Such a deal should be presented by a high-level U.S. envoy sent to meet Kim Jong-Il in Pyongyang, and then be endorsed in the six-party process.

“If the launch does take place, the best outcome for the international community is simply for it to fail, as an earlier test did”, says Daniel Pinkston, Crisis Group’s North East Asia Deputy Project Director. “If the rocket is shot down by either Japan or the U.S., the North Koreans would see this as a sign of Tokyo and Washington’s implacable hostility and almost certainly withdraw from the Six-Party Talks.”

If you are asking if I agree with the ICG's assessment of the situation, I would have to say that I do. No matter how you slice it, there just aren't that many good outcomes coming out of this launch.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

In and Around North Korea: 21 - 27 March 2009

  • South Korea's chief envoy on the North Korean nuclear issue will make a two-day trip to Beijing this week to talk with Chinese officials over Pyongyang's planned rocket launch and the stalled six-way negotiations, officials said Sunday [22 March]. Wi So'ng-rak will meet China's Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei on Tuesday to discuss preemptive and counter steps with regard to North Korea's planned missile launch, as well as ways to resume the six-way talks aimed at resolving Pyongyang's nuclear ambition, according to them. "After visiting China, Wi will also visit the United States to hold talks with officials," an official said asking not to be named.

  • Japan's chief nuclear negotiator Akitaka Saiki met Monday [23 March] with his Chinese counterpart for talks on the six-party process for denuclearizing North Korea as well as Pyongyang's plan to launch a rocket next month. Saiki, director general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, arrived in Beijing on Sunday evening for a brief visit to meet with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei.

  • South Korea's chief delegate to the six-party talks on North Korea's denuclearization will make a two-day visit to China from Tuesday [24 March], South Korea's foreign ministry spokesman said Monday. Wi Sung Lac will hold talks with China's Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei on Tuesday to discuss North Korea's planned missile launch and ways to resume stalled six-party talks, Moon Tae Young said at a press briefing. After visiting China, Wi will visit the United States for talks with U.S. officials, Moon said, adding that the specific date for Wi's trip to the United States has not yet been finalized.

  • The United States is committed to diplomatic efforts in denuclearizing North Korea, its envoy to Seoul reiterated Monday [23 March], dismissing the possibility of resorting to military force. "We have to be very persistent and strong. We don't want to see war here," responded U.S. Ambassador Kathleen Stephens after a lecture to university students in Seoul when asked whether Washington would consider using force as an option to end North Korea's nuclear program. "Nobody wants to see war and violence on the Korean Peninsula. Everyone understands what a disastrous course that would be," Stephens said.

  • North Korea warned Tuesday [24 March] it will boycott the six-party nuclear talks if the United Nations imposes sanctions over its rocket launch, saying such punitive measures violate a multilateral agreement on mutual respect. "If such a hostile activity is carried out under the name of the U.N. Security Council, that would be a breach of the Sept. 19 joint statement by the U.N. Security Council itself," the North's Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement, referring to a 2005 accord reached at the six-party talks. The talks involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

  • A senior U.S. diplomat signaled Tuesday [24 March] that the United States hopes to maintain the framework of six-party talks on dismantling North Korea's nuclear programs even if the North launches what is widely thought to be a long-range ballistic missile. "We don't want to take the kind of response that makes it impossible to restart the six-party talks," James Zumwalt, charge d'affaires at the U.S. embassy in Tokyo, told reporters.

  • North Korea said on Thursday [26 March] it would restart its nuclear plant that makes arms-grade plutonium if the United Nations punishes it for what Pyongyang plans as a satellite launch next month. North Korea has frozen its aging nuclear reactor and started to take apart its Yongbyon atomic plant under a deal signed by North and South Korea, Russia, Japan, the United States and China in 2005 that called for economic aid and better diplomatic standing for the isolated North in return.

  • North Korea's latest threat to boycott the six-party talks aimed at its denuclearization is emerging as yet another diplomatic hurdle for the five other nations committed to the discussions. The North has said it would not participate in the talks if the United Nations Security Council sanctions' committee penalizes the North after it launches a rocket next month. Pyongyang intends to launch a satellite between April 4-8, but the international society believes it will be a long-range missile.

  • North Korea on Thursday [26 March] blasted Seoul as a "traitor" for backing U.N. sanctions against its imminent rocket launch, reasserting its right to launch a satellite. Intelligence sources said North Korea could be technically ready for the launch by this weekend, having loaded its rocket onto a launch pad on its east coast. But Seoul officials believe North Korea will wait until the period it has notified U.N. aviation and shipping agencies -- some time between 4 and 8. South Korea, the United States and Japan believe the satellite launch could be actually covered for a long-range missile test as the technologies involved are virtually the same. The three countries have warned the rocket launch would be a breach of a U.N. resolution banning the North from ballistic missile activity.

  • North Korea will call the first meeting of its newly elected assembly on April 9, the state media said Friday [20 March], which would be shortly after the country's planned rocket launch. "The First Session of the 12th SPA will be convened in Pyongyang on April 9," the Korean Central News Agency said, referring to the North's parliament, the Supreme People's Assembly. The date was officially chosen on Monday, the two-sentence report said.

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Il recently met with hundreds of front-line soldiers at a military gathering held in Pyongyang, the country's state media reported Saturday [21 March]. At the meeting in the North Korean capital, Kim waved to active outpost soldiers who "cheered towards Kim in the plaza of the Kumsusan Memorial Palace," reported the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA).

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has visited an art troupe remaking a Chinese opera as part of celebrations marking the allies' 60 years of relations, the country's state media said Sunday [22 March]. State media have been reporting on Kim's public activity for five consecutive days. Some of the latest photos showed a much leaner Kim, with little trace of his trademark potbelly.

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has more than tripled his number of public activities this year, a Seoul spokesman said Monday [23 March], as questions about his health reemerged after a recent picture showed him looking much leaner. The 67-year-old Kim, who reportedly suffered a stroke last August, appeared to have lost a considerable amount weight, with little trace of his trademark potbelly in a photo taken during his visit to a new swimming pool released by North Korea's state media on Friday. Seoul officials could not say whether his weight loss was caused by ill health, age or a weight control program. South Korea's Unification Ministry said the Seoul government was watching Kim's movements closely, noting his stepped-up public activity is "very unusual."

  • Kim Kyong Hui, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and wife of powerful Workers` Party member Chang Sung Taek, is said to be in critical condition or almost in a coma due to complications associated with alcohol use disorders. French neurosurgeon Francois-Xavier Roux, 65, who was recruited by the North Korean leader’s eldest son Kim Jong Nam, is said to have treated Kim Kyong Hui, 63. A Korean-Japanese businessman who can freely enter Pyongyang via Beijing said yesterday that her long addiction to alcohol caused severe brain damage. Despite risk of exposure, Kim Jong Nam brought Roux from France to Pyongyang last year as he is known to be close with his aunt.

  • Kim Jong Il, general secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea and chairman of the National Defence Commission of the DPRK, provided field guidance to the Jaeryong Mine. After being briefed on the mine in front of the map showing a panoramic view of the Sungri Mining District and going round stopes, he acquainted himself in detail with the progress made in the preparations for reenergizing the production there and the mineral output. He was accompanied by Kim Rak Hui, chief secretary of the South Hwanghae Provincial Committee of the WPK, and Pak Nam-ki and Chang So'ng-t'aek, department directors of the Central Committee of the WPK.

  • North Korea is expected to revise the constitution next month to make the National Defense Commission its topmost government organ, according to a researcher at a South Korean state-run think tank. The constitutional amendment is expected to take place at the Supreme People's Assembly which opens on April 9, according to Lee. "The NDC will be expanded to include Kim Jong-Il’s closest associates in the Workers' Party and the government as well as the military," he said.

  • North Koreans have begun planting rice with a vow to solve the food shortage, Pyongyang's state media said Monday [23 March], despite lacking the usual aid from South Korea for the second year. The Seoul government was still undecided about civic organizations' request to send 3 billion won (US$2 million) worth of agricultural plastic covers and fertilizers to North Korea, a delay that makes it virtually impossible to help with North's rice farming this year due to time constraints.

  • Five humanitarian groups that distribute US aid in North Korea say they are “saddened” by the reclusive country’s decision this past week to expel them by the end of the month but remain committed to assisting the country’s people. “Until the end of the month, we will work with our North Korean partners to ensure a proper closeout,” stated the five organisations Friday in a joint statement. A US State Department spokesman had confirmed earlier this week that North Korea refused to accept future US food aid and asked Mercy Corps, World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, Global Resource Services and Christian Friends of Korea to leave by the end of March. "We're obviously disappointed," State Department spokesman Robert Woods told reporters. "Clearly, this is food assistance that the North Korean people need. That's why we're concerned ... The food situation in North Korea is not a good one."

  • The food prices in North Korean markets have been stable of late. A defector named Kim, who keeps in touch with his family in the North, reported Monday [23 March] in a telephone conversation with The Daily NK: "The current food prices remain stable, according to sources from Hoeryo'ng and Pyongyang."

  • North Korea will not talk to South Korea or the United States until they stop accusing the communist nation of being a human rights violator, the North said Friday [20 March], adding inter-Korean relations are already at a point where "war may break out at any moment.” "There can be no 'human rights' issue in the DPRK in the light of the nature of its socialist system or its mission and aim, as it is the most dignified socialist system centered on the popular masses, which was chosen by the Korean people themselves and is being protected by them as their faith," an unidentified spokesman for the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement.

  • South Korea has co-sponsored a U.N. resolution condemning North Korea's human rights abuses that is expected to be put to a vote next week, officials here said Friday [20 March]. "We co-sponsored the European Union-drafted resolution submitted to the 10th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council underway in Geneva," a foreign ministry official said, asking not to be named.

  • With North Korea widely expected to launch a long-range missile in early April, some ROK Government officials and media outlets have raised the possibility of greater South Korean participation in the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). Recent remarks by ROK defense and foreign ministry officials indicate Seoul may consider moving away from its current partial participation in the PSI to a more robust role.

  • Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie urged North Korea not to go ahead with a proposed satellite launch during a meeting with his Japanese counterpart here on Friday, the first time Beijing has overtly demanded Pyongyang back down from a rocket launch.

  • North Korea has informed South Korean air traffic control that it will temporarily close two air routes between April 4-8, during which it aims to launch a satellite, officials said Saturday [21 March]. The Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime said that the North Korean Air Route Traffic Control Center informed its South Korean counterpart earlier in the day of the planned closure. "North Korean officials attributed the closure to the country's planned launch of a satellite," said a ministry official. North Korea will close only the Pyongyang-monitored parts of the two routes, R452 and G346 from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. [0200-0700 GMT] during the five days, according to the ministry.

  • Two American warships, initially deployed for the U.S.-South Korea joint military exercise, will remain in the waters near the Korean Peninsula in preparation for the suspected long-range rocket launch by North Korea next month, a military source said yesterday. Two Aegis-class destroyers will stay behind although the annual military drills, codenamed Key Resolve, wrapped up on Friday. "It's my understanding that two Aegis destroyers, including the 9,200-ton USS John S. McCain, will stay behind for a new mission in the East Sea," said the source. "They will prepare for North Korea's (suspected) missile launch."

  • If North Korea persists in launching a missile, the government plans to immediately call to convening a meeting of the UN Security Council [UNSC]. On the day of the missile launch, Prime Minister Taro Aso will hold a phone conversation with leaders of other countries and ask for concerted action. Meanwhile, Japan will give shape to its own plan to impose stricter sanctions. Thus, Japan is poised to increase pressure against North Korea.

  • Chief negotiators for the six-party denuclearization talks from the United States, Japan and South Korea plan to gather in Washington Friday [27 March] to discuss dealing with the expected launch of a North Korean rocket, informed sources said Monday. The three countries apparently aim to demonstrate their unified stance on the rocket launch expected to come in early April. Some countries believe it is a cover for test-firing a missile. It will be the first meeting, if realized, of the chief nuclear negotiators of the three countries since the launch of the U.S. administration under President Barack Obama.

  • South Korea's chief nuclear negotiator said Tuesday [24 March] that he will focus on mapping out contingency plans in case of a North Korean missile launch with his Chinese counterpart in talks later in the day. "To be mainly discussed are measures before and after North Korea fires a missile," Wi So'ng-rak said shortly before flying to Beijing, where he will meet China's Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei.

  • North Korea has positioned what is believed to be a Taepodong-2 long-range ballistic missile on the launch pad at a facility in Musudanri, sources close to Japan-U.S. relations said Wednesday [25 March] night. North Korea has said it plans to send a satellite into orbit from the facility between April 4 and 8. But Japan, the United States and South Korea suspect the planned launch may actually be a test-firing of a ballistic missile.

  • North Korea has placed a long-range missile on a launch pad, a US official has said, as Washington warned it would take the matter to the United Nations if Pyongyang goes ahead with the planned launch. A US counter-proliferation official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP that Japanese press reports that a long-range missile has been placed on a launch pad "are accurate." Two stages of the missile were visible but the top was covered with a shroud supported by a crane, NBC television reported, citing US officials.

  • North Korea has been upping the ante in future rounds of multilateral nuclear talks with threats to launch a rocket and other provocative actions against the U.S. and its allies, the commander of the U.S. forces in Korea said Tuesday [24 March]. "North Korea's most recent provocative actions are all an attempt to ensure the regime's survival and improve its bargaining position at international negotiations to gain concessions," Gen. Walter Sharp said in a House Armed Services Committee hearing. The commander told a Senate hearing last week that North Korea has been "fielding a new intermediate-range ballistic missile capable of striking Okinawa, Guam and Alaska, and continues to develop and mature systems with an intercontinental range capability."

  • China's chief of general staff met with his South Korean counterpart in Seoul on Wednesday as their governments struggle to defuse tension over North Korea's planned rocket launch. A defense official in Seoul said earlier in the day that South Korea plans to reiterate to the Chinese delegation its opposition to the rocket launch.

  • Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura, Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada and Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone will meet Wednesday [25 March] to decide what steps the Japanese government will take in the event North Korea were to test launch a ballistic missile, ruling party lawmakers said Tuesday. Kawamura unveiled the plan for the talks among the three Cabinet members at a meeting Tuesday of a panel of the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito party for discussing measures to deal with the North Korean missile issue, according to the lawmakers in attendance.

  • The European Union has given a cautious warning to North Korea that it’s planned rocket launch in early April "would be seen" as a violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution, the Czech Republic said Tuesday. The message was delivered during a trip to Pyongyang by an EU Troika delegation earlier this week that met with the North's Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun, according to the country that holds the rotating EU presidency.

  • North Korea is likely to push for its second nuclear test if it does not get a satisfactory response from the U.S. on its upcoming rocket launch, a visiting U.S. expert said Thursday [26 March], following reports that the reclusive nation has already mounted a rocket on a launch pad in its northeast coastal base. Art Brown, head of the Washington-based consulting firm Midsight, also said the North's rocket launch due in early April will provide South Korea with a chance to take the driver's seat in dealing with the communist neighbor. "If they don't like the response, they may do a second nuclear test just to shake up the United States," the former CIA official said in an interview. He served as chief of the CIA's local branch from 1996-1999.

  • South Korea plans to dispatch an advanced destroyer to the East Sea [Sea of Japan] as North Korea finalizes steps to launch a rocket despite international warnings, officials said Thursday [26 March]. "The Sejong the Great destroyer will conduct monitoring activities in the East Sea," an official said, referring to the 7,600-tonne vessel that detects and tracks targets hundreds of kilometers away. Four U.S. and Japanese destroyers patrol the waters after North Korea said earlier this month that it would launch a communications satellite between April 4-8. Neighbors say the communist state could in fact be readying to test-fire a ballistic missile that can theoretically hit Alaska.

  • Ahead of North Korea's planned satellite launch next month, the government has revealed its missile defense plan should the rocket fall within Japanese territory. From Friday [27 March], Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada will be able to order a missile intercept without consultation or official announcement for a limited period under article 82 of the Self-Defense Forces Law, it was decided Wednesday. Following an intercept order, SM-3 missiles carried by two Aegis destroyers in the Sea of Japan, and PAC-3 surface-to-air missiles in Iwate and Akita prefectures will be deployed. If an intercept is ordered, it will be the first actual use of Japan's missile defense system since it was introduced in 2003. Under the SDF Law article, the order will not need to be announced in advance.

  • North Korea has likely sent two U.S. journalists who were detained in a border region last week to Pyongyang for questioning, sources here said Sunday [22 March]. A day earlier, the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) confirmed two U.S. female journalists were detained by border guards March 17 for allegedly "illegally intruding the territory of the DPRK (North Korea) by crossing the DPRK-China border.” The KCNA also said in the two-sentence report that "a competent organ is now investigating the case." "Considering the gravity of the issue, it is very likely the two U.S. female journalists have been transferred to Pyongyang," one of the sources told Yonhap.

  • The United States is still negotiating for the release of two American journalists held in North Korea, the State Department said Friday [20 March]. Spokesman Robert Wood, however, would not elaborate, citing the sensitivity of the issue involving North Korea, with which the U.S. has no diplomatic ties amid rancor over denuclearization talks and threats of a missile launch. "What I can tell you is that we are working diplomatically to try to resolve this issue," Wood said. "Secretary (of State Hillary) Clinton is engaged on this matter right now. Our view, given the circumstances, is that the less we say about this publicly, the better for those parties concerned. It's a sensitive matter right now and I just for right now would like to leave it there."

  • North Korea's confirmation of the detention of two U.S. journalists last Saturday [21 March] has triggered speculation that the early confirmation may lead to the early release of the detainees. The North confirmed reports that its military is detaining the journalists who allegedly sneaked into its territory illegally, the Ministry of Unification said, Monday. The confirmation came four days after the detention of Chinese American Laura Ling and Korean American Euna Lee. The ministry said it is also keeping a close watch on the situation since the North reported the issue earlier than expected. ``Two Americans were detained on March 17 while illegally intruding into North Korea's territory by crossing the border. A competent organ is now investigating the case,'' the North's official Korean Central News Agency said without providing any more details.

  • When their capture first became known, the journalists were said to be on a trip to report on the plight of North Korean refugees, and their reports on the refugees or footage of North Korean territory could work against them. The South Korean intelligence community believes the charges against the journalists will likely be espionage because they crossed the border. It’s a felony that could result in a minimum of 20 years in prison in North Korea. One source said, “The North will film all of its questioning of the journalists and will prepare for negotiations with the United States.”

  • The United States Tuesday [24 March] denied the report that two American journalists detained in North Korea are being investigated for alleged espionage. "We are in touch with the DPRK through various channels, and the only statement that the DPRK has made to us says only that the DPRK believes that the two journalists crossed the DPRK border illegally," State Department spokesman Robert Wood said in a statement. The detention of the journalists came at a time when tensions have mounted on the Korean Peninsula after North Korea's announcement to launch a rocket in early April to orbit a satellite, which the U.S. sees as a cover for a ballistic missile launch.

  • Two American journalists being held by North Korea may have been led across the border from China by a guide promising them exclusive footage of human trafficking or drug deals, an activist who helped organize their trip said Wednesday [25 March]. The guide and a third American, cameraman Mitch Koss, reportedly escaped arrest last week but were detained by Chinese border guards. Koss has left the country, China's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday. His whereabouts Wednesday were unclear. The reporters' detentions come at a sensitive time, with Pyongyang planning to fire a satellite into space in early April. Regional powers fear the claim is a cover for the launch of a long-range missile capable of reaching Alaska, and U.S. officials on Wednesday confirmed that North Korea is loading a Taepodong rocket on its east coast launch pad.

  • The European Union (EU) and an international group of journalists forged a deal on Tuesday to provide 400 million won (US$290,000) to help anti-Pyongyang radio broadcasting stations run mostly by defectors from North Korea. The EU and the Reporters sans Frontiers (RSF) signed the deal with three stations -- Free North Korea Radio, Open Radio for Korea and Radio Free Chosun -- in Seoul to fund their programs for the next three years.

  • North Korea allowed South Koreans to visit a joint industrial complex on Monday [23 March] after normalizing border traffic over the weekend following the conclusion of a U.S.-South Korean military exercise, Seoul officials said. North Korea had severed the only remaining official phone and fax channel with South Korea and sealed their shared border three times during the March 9-20 joint drill, which it views as a rehearsal for invasion. The measures were withdrawn on Saturday, a day after the joint drill ended. The North Korean military in charge of border crossing sent a letter of approval by the restored inter-Korean fax channel shortly after 8 a.m., officials of the Unification Ministry said. About 640 South Korean workers and managers are scheduled to visit the joint industrial complex in North Korea's border town of Kaesong, and 216 people are to return, they said.

  • Hyundai Asan, the South Korean tour operator of Mount Geumgang resort in North Korea, said more than 30,000 tourists have reserved tickets for the tour since the company began selling reservation tickets on Feb. 13.

  • North Korea on Saturday [21 March] restored severed military communication channel and reopened the border for South Koreans visiting a joint industrial complex, following the conclusion of a U.S.-South Korean military exercise. "The military communication channel was restored," Unification Ministry spokesperson Lee Jong-joo said.

  • The Ministry of Unification will open centers to help North Korean defectors adapt themselves to new circumstances in South Korea, Friday, a ministry spokesperson said, Monday [23 March]. ``Many people have raised the issue that North Koreans who completed Hanawon programs have difficulty in adaptation,'' the spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo told reporters.

  • North Korean defectors working in South Korea earn less than a third of the average monthly income of their South Korean counterparts, according to a government survey released Tuesday [24 March]. According to the survey of 361 North Korean defectors working in the South, the newcomers earned an average of 937,000 won (US$680) per person a month. The average South Korean employee earned 2.9 million won a month in the third quarter of last year, according to the latest data available from the Korea National Statistical Office.

  • North Korea has intensified quarantine efforts "more than ever" to prevent a possible bird flu outbreak and will closely work with the United Nations, its media said Wednesday [25 March]. North Korea acknowledged a bird flu outbreak at a major chicken farm in Pyongyang in March 2005 and accepted international aid. Since then, not a single case of the infectious disease has been detected, Pyongyang officials have asserted.

  • On the 23d, China's Assistant Foreign Minister He Yafei disclosed in Beijing that China and the United States have already arranged to have the first meeting between Hu Jintao and [Barack] Obama before the London financial summit. With regard to whether or not Hu Jintao and Obama will discuss security issues and the Iranian and North Korean nuclear problems, He Yafei stated that, during the meeting, the heads of state of China and the United States will exchange opinions on Sino-US relations and how to respond to the current international financial crisis, as well as other international and regional issues of concern to both sides. [He] estimated that mention would be made of the Iranian and North Korean nuclear problems.

  • Chinese President Hu Jintao will hold his first talks with U.S. President Barack Obama and also meet bilaterally with Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso when he visits London for a financial summit, a Chinese diplomat said Monday [23 March]. At a press briefing, Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei said Hu will also hold bilateral talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak on the sidelines of the multilateral meeting on April 2.

  • South Korean President Lee Myung-bak will hold his first one-on-one summit with U.S. President Barack Obama in London on April 2 on the sidelines of the Group of 20 financial summit, a diplomatic source said Tuesday. "The two sides agreed to hold the meeting shortly before the opening of the G-20 summit on April 2," the source said, requesting anonymity. "The U.S. is expected to hold bilateral summits there with South Korea and only a few other nations."

  • Leftwing activists have been protesting in front of the Foreign Ministry building since Friday [20 March], when Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said North Korea's missile launch would prompt South Korea to consider signing up fully to the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative. Former president Kim Tae-chung on Monday said South Korea's participation in the PSI would require it to search ships carrying strategic goods and that North Korea would oppose it. He added if a gun battle ensues, it could escalate into a naval battle, and if coastal batteries take part in the clash, the situation could escalate into a war. The left is trying to turn the PSI issue into an ideological confrontation. The issue of taking part in part in the PSI should not be turned into an ideological dispute but decided after strategic thinking about the pluses and minuses for South Korea, considering the future of inter-Korean relations, the South Korea-U.S. alliance and international cooperation in diplomacy and security.

  • President Obama's first State of the Union address had no mention of North Korea, and nothing about its nuclear and missile programs. Obama's silence, whether calculated or not, must have caused significant disappointment to North Korean leaders, who were prepared to enter into direct talks with the United States, using the North's weapons of mass destruction as the ultimate bargaining chip for its survival strategy. We do not know if President Obama is considering making his next peace overture to North Koreans. Such a possibility seems blocked at the moment by Pyongyang's plan to launch a long-range rocket in early April. But, if Obama does reach out toward the North, Kim's response will be much more spontaneous than what Iranian leaders initially showed. We suspect that the North Korean leader might by now regret the rocket launch schedule.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

In and Around North Korea: 14 - 20 March 2009

  • North Korea asked Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei to provide light water reactors to the country as a condition for accepting a comprehensive verification procedure over its nuclear activities, sources close to the six-party denuclearization talks said Thursday (19 Mar). The request was made when Wu, the chairman of the six-way talks, visited the country in February to seek a breakthrough in the multilateral negotiations, which have remained stalled since December, when they ended without progress due to sharp differences over how to verify Pyongyang's nuclear activities.

  • North Korea will reject the six-party denuclearization talks [6PT] should the Barack Obama administration sanction it over its rocket launch, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper hinted Thursday (19 Mar). However, North Korea is ready to respond if the U.S. proposes dialogue, said the Choson Sinbo, a Tokyo-based paper that conveys North Korea's position. "It is too early to predict which action the Obama administration that has said its North Korea policy is 'under review' will take," the paper said. "One thing that is certain is that should it choose to go with sanctions and pressure, its dialogue process with North Korea that has been held through the diplomatic frame of six-party talks will face the risk of suspension."

  • Chinese President Hu Jintao urged North Korea's visiting premier Thursday (19 Mar) to cooperate with efforts to resume stalled international talks on dismantling the North's nuclear programs, state media said. Hu told Kim Yong Il that China is willing to work with other parties to restart the six-nation talks and overcome difficulties, the official Xinhua News Agency said. "We hope that relevant parties can consider the whole situation, appropriately resolve their differences and promote the progress of the six-party talks," Xinhua quoted Hu as saying.

  • North Korea has removed more than 75 percent of the used fuel rods at its atomic facilities, a U.S. report showed Sunday (15 Mar), a sign that progress has been made towards denuclearization despite hang-ups in multilateral talks. According to the report by the Congressional Research Service, the North has removed 6,100 out of 8,000 used fuel rods as of the end of February with efforts underway to fully disable nuclear facilities at its Yongbyon complex. The report comes as the six-party talks on the North's atomic programs have been stalled since December, when North Korea refused to agree to a verification protocol for its nuclear facilities.

  • North Korea has slowed disablement work at its key nuclear reactor from what had already been a snail-like pace, complaining it has not been given energy aid promised in compensation, diplomatic sources said Tuesday (17 Mar).

  • The slowdown comes at a time when the delivery of about 75 percent of assistance promised in a six-party deal has been completed, but the other 25 percent remains up in air. According to the sources, North Korea recently dropped the pace of disablement work by reducing the number of nuclear fuel rods it removes from the reactor from 15 a day to 15 a week.

  • According to North Korean military sources, the aggressive Key Resolve and Foal Eagle joint military exercises aimed at ground, maritime, and air surprise strikes against our Republic are being conducted recently at a peak stage. Vast armed forces of such proportions as to be seen only on the eve of war entered the stage of attack operations across the entire region of South Korea under orders from the South Korea-US Combined Forces Command and the puppet Joint Chiefs of Staff already put into mobile deployments.

  • North Korean Premier Kim Yong-il began on Tuesday (17 Mar) his five-day trip to China, where he will attend an opening ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of bilateral relations and meet with Chinese leaders. Kim, accompanied by industry-related Cabinet ministers, arrived in Beijing amid tensions surrounding his country's planned rocket launch. After the ceremony for the opening of the "year of Sino-DPRK friendship," the premier is scheduled to hold talks with his Chinese counterpart, Wen Jiabao, on Wednesday (18 Mar) and meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao the following day.

  • Russia plans to step up political and economic cooperation with North Korea, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in a congratulatory message to his North Korean counterpart Kim Yong-Il upon the 60th anniversary of the bilateral agreement on economic and cultural cooperation. "This is the first interstate document in our bilateral relations that set the legal groundwork for boosting mutually advantageous and equal cooperation not only on economy and culture, but also in other areas," he said.

  • An online media reported rumors that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was helped to ascend stairs during recent onsite inspections in Hoiryeong, North Hamkyung Province, on Feb. 24, raising speculations about his health conditions. Citing a source from the province, Daily N.K. said some people who accompanied Kim at the time of the tour are under investigation by the authorities for spreading rumors of Kim’s health difficulties to their acquaintances.

  • It has been reported that Kim Jong Il, chairman of the North Korean National Defense Commission [NDC], will begin successor's lessons for his third son, Chong-un, 26, with the first session of the 12th Supreme People's Assembly [SPA] -- which is to be held at the beginning of next month -- as a starting point. North Korean sources in Beijing said so on the 9th [of March], while also saying that Chairman Kim will carry out a large-scale reshuffle of the party and the army in general, within this month as the election of deputies to the SPA has been successfully completed. This source, who demanded anonymity, said that "Chong-un will begin to take successor's lessons in earnest, from next month on," while also saying that "through the reshuffle, Chairman Kim will confer a major position on Chong-un, whom he unofficially designated as successor." He also said that "Chairman Kim will officially designate his third son Chong-un as the successor who will inherit the revolutionary tradition of North Korea, this coming 2012, which is both his 70th birthday and the 100th birthday of Kim Il Sung, and in which [North Korea] will open the gate of a powerful state."

  • North Korea has ordered international food aid workers to leave the country this month over a dispute with the US that comes amid rising tensions as Pyongyang prepares to launch a long-range missile. Pyongyang has told Washington that United Nations World Food Programme [WFP] staff will be barred from distributing food aid after March. The Stalinist regime has also told US non-governmental organisations to leave this month, and rescinded permission for other humanitarian groups to visit, the Financial Times has learned.

  • North Korea has refused to accept humanitarian food aid from the U.S., the State Department said Tuesday (17 Mar), amid escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula over North Korea's planned rocket launch and ongoing joint military drills between South Korea and the U.S. "North Korea has informed the United States that it does not wish to receive additional U.S. food assistance at this time," spokesman Robert Wood said. "We will work with U.S. NGOs and the North Korean counterparts to ensure that food that's already been delivered -- or food that's already in North Korea -- is distributed to the intended recipients." North Korea's harvest this year will fall short of the demand by its 24 million people by about 1.17 million tons, according to the Seoul government. Even if the North's own imports and Chinese aid are considered, the net shortage will likely surpass 500,000 tons, it said. The U.S. spokesman said he had no idea what caused the North Koreans to reject further food assistance, hinting that the North's reluctance to issue visas for Korean-speaking monitors at the World Food Program might have played a role.

  • North Korea, facing chronic food deficiencies, is again looking at fertilizer shortages as the spring farming season approaches. North Korean authorities and farmers are particularly troubled by the fact that, just as last year, the likelihood of receiving chemical fertilizer aid from the South is practically non-existent. “If South Korean fertilizer aid to the North is not forthcoming this year, it will have a severe impact on the North’s grain production. This is already reflected in grain prices within North Korean markets, and could serve to drive them up even further.”

  • A U.N. human rights investigator accused North Korean authorities Monday (16 Mar) of committing widespread torture in prisons that he called "death traps." Life in the reclusive communist-ruled country is "dire and desperate," said Vitit Muntarbhorn, adding that people are denied enough food to survive. Muntarbhorn told the 47-nation Human Rights Council that whole families are routinely sent away for the crimes of one member. Once imprisoned, they suffer greatly. "Many prisons are a death trap for the inmates," he said.

  • Following North Korea's announcement that it had informed international agencies of its impending launch of a satellite, officials in South Korea, Japan and the United States on 13 Mar condemned the plan and warned of serious consequences. South Korea's Foreign Ministry said that early yesterday morning it had received official confirmation of the planned launch from the International Civil Aviation Organization [IMO] and the International Maritime Organization [ICAO], the two agencies informed of the North's moves. In the official document provided to the ICAO, the North stated that it would "proceed with the launch of a communications satellite" between April 4 and 8, and between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m., Greenwich Mean Time, or 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., Korean time. On the map issued by the ICAO, North Korea provided two specific dangerous areas, with detailed coordinates on a map. One area is off Japan's northeastern coast, while the other is in the Pacific Ocean.

  • Japan and South Korea on Monday warned North Korea of a harsh international response if Pyongyang goes ahead with a rocket launch, including raising the issue at the U.N. Security Council, with Tokyo's top nuclear envoy hinting at further unilateral sanctions by Japan. Akitaka Saiki, director general of the Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, also said after meeting his South Korean counterpart Wi Sung Lac in Tokyo that the two countries believe a missile launch by Pyongyang would "unavoidably" affect any hope of resuming the stalled six-party talks aimed at denuclearizing North Korea. "Japan and South Korea are in absolute agreement that such a provocative act by North Korea, be it for the firing of a missile or a satellite, would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions," Saiki told reporters. "If the launch goes ahead despite our calls against it, of course the international community will respond harshly."

  • The government plans to approve at a Cabinet meeting as early as by the end of March preparatory measures to destroy the ''satellite'' rocket North Korea is preparing to launch, in the event that it would fall onto Japanese territory, government sources said Tuesday (17 Mar). Following the decision, Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada will order the Self-Defense Forces to take measures to prepare for the possible intercept of what is seen as a Taepodong-2 long-range ballistic missile in line with the Self-Defense Forces Law, including the deployment of ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptors in regions where a part or all of the projectile might fall.

  • North Korea, if it goes through with a rocket launch, may open the door for Seoul to consider full-fledged membership in a Washington-led campaign to combat weapons proliferation, Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said. "That is a possibility because the Proliferation Security Initiative is aimed at containing weapons of mass destruction, and if North Korea develops and attains such capabilities, there will be a need to prevent proliferation. So from this point of view, the launch may raise the need to review full membership," Yu said on Friday (20 Mar). Seoul is currently on observer status, and the previous government had put off full membership, citing such circumstances. Recently, however, an increasing number of scholars and officials have voiced the need to fully participate, calling membership one of the few significant leverages left for Seoul in dealing with Pyongyang and its brinkmanship.

  • The South Korean government is considering drafting a list of targets for sanctions in North Korea in case the North launches a long-range missile. The projected list is aimed at stepping up pressure on the North under UN Security Council 1718. The list would specify people and organizations in North Korea as targets of major sanctions. When Resolution 1718 was adopted after North Korea conducted a nuclear test in 2006, no list was made out of political consideration. A government official said, "Considering the positions of China and Russia, it's not easy to reach a new resolution at the UN Security Council if the North keeps insisting that the projectile it plans to launch is a satellite. But there is some consensus that the North's launch of such a projectile would itself constitute a violation of Resolution 1718, even if it is a satellite." He said a "realistic alternative" would be to step up sanctions according to the resolution, which have so far been nominal.

  • North Korea and the United States are in secret talks over the two American journalists being detained by the communist nation, a diplomatic source here said Thursday (19 Mar), with the negotiations delicate given the countries lack of formal diplomatic relations. "Two reporters working for a U.S.-based Internet news media outlet, including a Korean-American, were detained by North Korean authorities earlier this week, and they remain in custody there," the source said. The journalists, both women, were videotaping a scene near the North's border with China despite repeated warnings by North Korean border guards, according to the source. They were arrested after accidentally crossing into North Korea, the source said, adding it was hard to predict how the North will handle the situation.

  • North Korea will likely carry out a surprise attack on South Korea, simultaneously with the communist state's launch of what it calls a communications satellite in early April, South Korea's defense ministry warned Wednesday (18 Mar). The latest warning followed Pyongyang's threat last week to push ahead with planned satellite launch in the sea off the Korean Peninsula between April 4-8. "There is a good possibility North Korea may make a surprise but limited attack on some areas along the inter-Korean border, with global attention mounting on its planned missile launch," the ministry said in a report presented to a special parliamentary committee on inter-Korean relations.

  • A [ROK] intelligence official who deals with North Korea issues said on 16 March, "It has been confirmed that Kim Jong Il's thinking was reflected in Kim Kyo'k-sik's appointment as 4th Army Corps commander." More specifically, Chairman Kim personally gave Kim Kyo'k-sik assurances as follows: "This is not a demotion. I am sending you there because the west coast is important." The official said that intelligence authorities also obtained intelligence indicating that even gave him a word of encouragement by saying, "Keep up the good work and come back."

  • While the top special operations units are still well cared for, more and more reports come out of the north about many less skilled special operations troops complaining about less, or at least lower quality, food and other benefits (like access to electricity year round, and heat during the winter.) The government uses these troops to insure the loyalty of the other 85 percent of the military, and more and more elite troops are being used to assist the secret police in going after dissidents and corrupt officials. This is probably hurting the North Korean special operations forces more than anything else. The troops are getting a close look at the corruption and contradictions in North Korea. The troops generally lived in closed bases and don't get out much. But now that they do, they see a North Korea that is unpleasant, and not as well as their commanders told them it was.

  • North Korea lifted a days-long ban on border crossings Tuesday (17 Mar), normalizing visits by South Korean workers and cargo trucks to a joint industrial complex, but uncertainty lingered over Pyongyang's intentions and border stability. The Unification Ministry said the North's military overseeing cross-border passage hand-delivered a letter to the South Korean management office in Kaesong that it will approve visits both ways. The letter did not explain the reason for the North's reversal. "Traffic is now moving smoothly both ways across the border," ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun said. Hundreds of South Korean managers and workers resumed trips to the Kaesong complex, just an hour's drive from Seoul, delivering raw materials to their factories and bringing back end products. The cargo traffic had been banned since Friday, forcing a number of factories to considerably cut down their production.

  • South Korea warned Wednesday (18 Mar) that it would respond with decisive action if Pyongyang again blocked access to a joint factory park in North Korea, but said it was too early to consider shutting the project down. In the past week, the North has blocked movement across the heavily defended border to an industrial park run by South Korean companies in the city of Kaesong out of anger over joint military drills by South Korean and U.S. troops. "We are at this point not considering shutting down the Kaesong industrial zone," Unification Minister Hyun In-taek told a forum of journalists. "But if the North repeats the border traffic suspension after the end of the drills, the government will consider it a very grave situation and will take appropriate measures," Hyun said, without elaborating on possible steps.

  • A group of North Korean defectors flew leaflets critical of the country's leader Kim Jong Il into the North on Tuesday, defying Seoul's calls for restraint amid heightened political tensions. About 20 defectors flew some 100,000 propaganda leaflets from the Imjingak pavilion just south of the inter-Korean border despite calls from the government to halt the campaign. The leaflets, which describe Kim as "the most vicious dictator and murderer," were sent with North Korean banknotes to encourage people to pick them up. "We want to tell the truth to North Korean citizens," Park Sang-hak, head of the Freedom Fighters for North Korea, a defectors' group in Seoul, said. The leaflets will likely land in North Korea with favorable winds that blew them northward, said Lim Jang-ho, spokesman for the Korea Meteorological Administration.

  • North Korea maintains a "shoot on sight" policy for people caught trying to flee the impoverished communist country, a United Nations human rights envoy said in his latest report on conditions in the North, citing unidentified sources. Vitit Muntarbhorn, a U.N. Special Rapporteur on North Korean human rights, was to report the results of his findings later Monday to the 10th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council underway in Geneva. "Some sources report a 'shoot on sight' policy with regard to those who seek to leave the country clandestinely, and violence used against pregnant women forcibly returned to the country," he said in the report made public on the agency's Web site before his presentation. "Over the past year, the situation facing asylum-seekers has become more stringent. More restrictions have been imposed on departures from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and entry into neighboring countries," he said, using the North's official name.

  • North Korea poses serious problems to the Asia-Pacific region, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said in a draft report Tuesday (17 Mar). Problems involving North Korea, including its nuclear ambitions and past abductions, need to be resolved through such channels as six-way talks, said the draft of an annual diplomatic bluebook for 2009. The draft acknowledged that progress has been made toward resolving the nuclear issue, citing North Korea's declaration submitted in June last year. But the draft said that Pyongyang is not forthcoming on how to verify its nuclear program.

  • It was one of the most bizarre episodes of the Cold War. Men, women and children snatched by communist spies and bundled aboard creaking fishing boats in the most mundane circumstances: on the way home from school, on shopping trips, during a romantic stroll along a windswept beach. Decades later, Japan is still some way off establishing the truth about North Korea’s abductions of at least 17 of its citizens, spirited away between 1977 and 1983 to the world’s most reclusive state. There, they were employed as mentors to communist agents hoping to pass themselves off as Japanese; some were allegedly murdered so their identities could be used by spies taking part in missions on the other side of the Japan Sea. While the rest of the world grapples for an appropriate response to modern-day North Korean security threats – a rumoured ballistic missile test in early April and the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons – Japan simply refuses to let the abduction issue die.

  • Japanese officials and media welcomed an emotional 11 March meeting between family members of Japanese abductee Yaeko Taguchi and former North Korean spy Kim Hyon-hui and praised the administration of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak for its cooperation in realizing the meeting. Officials and media called for increased cooperation between Japan and South Korea in solving the abduction issue, but expressed little optimism in achieving an early resolution in the face of a likely hardening of North Korea's position. Meanwhile, some media took the occasion to call for broader cooperation among Japan, South Korea, and the United States in addressing the abduction and other issues.

Friday, March 13, 2009

In and Around North Korea: 07 - 13 March 2009

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Il voted in parliamentary elections on Sunday (08 Mar), the country's media said, in long-overdue polls that experts say may provide a clue to who will be the country's next leader. Speculation has mounted over power succession in North Korea since Kim, 67, reportedly suffered a stroke last summer. The North's media have recently emphasized the themes of "bloodline" and "inheritance," a possible indication that the country may be preparing for another hereditary transfer of power. Kim "went to the festively decorated polling place ... and cast his ballot" for an army officer seeking a parliamentary seat representing the 342nd district, the North's Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station said in a report.

  • The U.N. agency responsible for aviation safety has decided to send a letter of protest to North Korea for its recent threat against the safety of South Korean passenger jets, South Korea's foreign ministry said Tuesday (10 Mar). "The ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) decided unanimously to send the letter in a meeting of the board of directors on Monday (09 Mar)," the ministry said. The letter, to be delivered formally to Pyongyang on Thursday (12 Mar), stresses that the North's announcement is a "grave threat" to the safety and security of global civil aviation and travelers, according to the ministry.

  • KCNA made public a report on 12 Mar that the DPRK acceded to the international treaty and convention on space. According to it, recently the DPRK acceded to the "Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies" and the "Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space." The DPRK's accession to the said treaty and convention will contribute to promoting international confidence and boosting cooperation in the scientific research into space and the satellite launch for peaceful purposes.

  • President Lee Myung-bak and the new U.S. point man on North Korea met on Monday (09 Mar) and discussed a range of issues, officials said just hours after the communist state unilaterally severed its last remaining communications line with the South. "President Lee and Bosworth exchanged their views on a wide range of issues that concern both of their nations," an official at the presidential office said. "Kim and Bosworth discussed the North's missile activity and other issues," an official said, asking not to be identified.

  • The top U.S. envoy on North Korea left the door open to visiting Pyongyang during his recent Asian tour, but authorities in the North were unresponsive, a senior Seoul official said Tuesday (10 Mar). Stephen Bosworth could have traveled to the North if it had "responded positively" to the plan, said the official, speaking to reporters on customary condition of anonymity in a background briefing. "I think North Korea was aware of the U.S.'s intention but it gave no response," he said. The official refused to clarify whether Bosworth delivered his intention to visit North Korea directly.

  • Stephen Bosworth, Washington's special envoy on North Korea, on 09 Mar ruled out immediate dialogue with the communist state, although he said that Washington remains willing to make high-level contact with North Koreans. He also once again urged Pyongyang to refrain from launching either a missile or a satellite, saying it would be a violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution. "For the most part, the U.S. has been willing to make high-level contact with the North Koreans ... we will remain fully engaged with them and we will coordinate very closely. But that doesn't mean we are going to be immediately in agreement and it certainly doesn't mean that in this case our commitment to the six-party process is any less," he said.

  • Stephen Bosworth, the new U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, expressed confidence Tuesday (10 Mar) about an early resumption of six-party negotiations aimed at disbanding North Korea's nuclear arsenal. "I'm optimistic we can resume the six-party process very soon," he told reporters upon returning from his three-nation tour of Asia that took him to Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul. Describing the trip as "encouraging," Bosworth said at an airport outside Washington that "I think we made a good contribution to coordination among the five" dialogue partners of North Korea in the six-way process.
  • China and the United States on Wednesday (11 Mar) agreed to make further efforts to promote the six-party talks on the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula. Visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and his U.S. counterpart Hillary Clinton discussed the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula during their talks at the State Department. Secretary Clinton said that the goal of a nuclear-free peninsula is indispensable, adding that the U.S. side hopes that the six-party talks could continue to proceed forward.

  • North Korea's Foreign Ministry on Wednesday (11 Mar) accused the United States of preparing for a war against the communist state in Pyongyang's first verbal criticism of the Obama Administration. A ministry spokesman said military drills taking place between U.S. and South Korean forces were "nuclear war exercises designed to mount a preemptive attack on the DPRK." The DPRK is the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "The new administration of the U.S. is now working hard to infringe upon the sovereignty of the DPRK by force of arms in collusion with the South Korean puppet bellicose forces," said a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, in comments carried by the North's official KCNA news agency.

  • A spokesman for the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave the following answer to the question raised by KCNA on 11 Mar as regards the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle joint military exercises kicked off by the U.S. and the south Korean puppets: The U.S. and the south Korean puppets started large-scale war exercises targeted against the DPRK on Mar. 9 at last. These war exercises were kicked off by the U.S. and the south Korean puppet war-like forces across south Korea at a time when the inter-Korean relations have reached the worst phase and the situation has grown so tense that a war may break out any moment due to the reckless policy of confrontation pursued by the south Korean conservative authorities. The war maneuvers are nuclear war exercises designed to mount a preemptive attack on the DPRK in terms of their scale and contents from A to Z. This situation hardens the will of the DPRK to bolster up its defense capability in every way no matter what others may say. The DPRK, exposed to the potential threat of the U.S. and its allied forces, will take every necessary measure to protect its sovereignty.

  • The Central Election Committee for the Election of Deputies to the 12th Supreme People's Assembly of the DPRK on 09 Mar released a report on the results of the election of a deputy to the SPA held at Constituency No. 333 on 08 Mar According to the report, all the voters of Constituency No. 333 participated in the election and voted for Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army Kim Jong Il who is general secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea and chairman of the DPRK National Defence Commission, reflecting the unanimous will and wishes of all the servicepersons of the KPA and the people of the country.

  • North Korea released the names of its new Assembly members including leader Kim Jong Il on Monday (09 Mar), but the list did not include his youngest son, who was rumored to have run in the election. The Supreme People's Assembly is a rubber stamp parliament, but Sunday's election drew keen outside attention because of the possibility that it would provide a clue to the country's next leader. But Kim Jong-un, 26, was conspicuously absent from the full list of names of the 687 members of the new Assembly, which was announced by the Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station and other state media.

  • North Korean Premier Kim Yong Il will soon visit China, the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported Tuesday (10 Mar). Kim will make an official goodwill visit to China at the invitation of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, the news agency said. Sources close to China-North Korea relations said earlier China and North Korea are in the process of arranging reciprocal visits by their premiers this year as part of events to mark the 60th anniversary of their diplomatic ties.

  • The North Korean Central Election Committee announced on 09 March the results of the election of deputies to the 12th Supreme People's Assembly held on the previous day. A total of 687 deputies, including General Secretary Kim Jong Il, were elected to a five-year term. Based on these election results, the SPA is expected to hold the first plenary session of the new deputies. The names of the three sons of Kim Jong Il are not included in the list of elected deputies, but indeed, it is highly possible that the selection of the successor will take place unrelated to the SPA election. Kim himself was named as successor in 1974, but he was first elected as SPA deputy in 1982 after he had appeared in official media reports as the successor.

  • Sunday's election of North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly, the country's parliament, has replaced just under half of its 687 mem bers, a Tokyo-based organization monitoring North Korean media said Wednesday (11 Mar). Radiopress said its analysis showed a total of 299 of the delegates on the list of those elected were new to the assembly's seats, while 367, or 53.4 percent, were reelected. North Korea's official media said Monday (09 Mar) that leader Kim Jong Il and his close aides have been elected to the assembly as a result of the election..

  • Authorities in North Korea have begun enforcing a ban on the use of foreign cars in the isolated Stalinist state, putting further pressure on a population already struggling to survive. Beginning in early February, Pyongyang's National Defense Commission began enforcing a directive banning imported cars and ordered a crackdown According to a cross-border Chinese merchant, those targeted by the crackdown are primarily officials who take bribes to fraudulently register cars to state-owned enterprises or military bases. Authorities also want to stop North Korean mechanics from rebuilding and modifying imported cars by changing them from right-hand-drive Japanese vehicles—the Japanese drive on the left—to left-hand-drive vehicles for use on North Korean roads "The National Defense Commission regards failure to enforce its directive banning imported cars as a provocative act," said the Chinese merchant, who is a frequent traveler to North Korea.

  • Under the leadership of Kim Jong Il, the country cannot feed its people. Perennially dependent on food aid, North Korea has become a truculent ward of the wealthy countries it threatens. It is the world's first nuclear-armed, missile-wielding beggar -- a particularly intricate challenge for the Obama administration as it begins to formulate a foreign policy.North Korea has informed an international organization on shipping safety that it will fire a rocket carrying a "satellite" between April 4-8, an intelligence source in Seoul said Thursday (12 Mar). Earlier in the day, the communist nation said through its official agency that it had notified the IMO and other related global bodies about the upcoming rocket launch. "The DPRK (North Korea) informed the International Civil Aviation Organization, the International Maritime Organization and other international organizations of necessary information for the safe navigation of planes and ships according to relevant regulations as part of its preparations for launching Kwangmyongsong-2, an experimental communications satellite, by carrier rocket Unha-2 which was made public by the Korean Committee of Space Technology recently," the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported, without mentioning a date for the rocket launch.

  • Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Saturday (28 Feb) indicated Beijing's opposition to a possible missile launch by North Korea, urging "relevant parties" to do more to benefit peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. China is aware of North Korea's recent announcement that it is getting ready to launch a communication satellite, Yang said, adding, "We are following developments.""This would be extremely ill-advised for North Korea to do this," Bosworth told reporters after holding a series of consultations with top-ranking South Korean officials. Bosworth rebuffed the North's claim of a satellite launch, saying, "whether they describe it a satellite launch or something else makes no difference. They would be a violation of the U.N. resolution 1718."

  • The chief U.S. intelligence official said on 10 Mar that he believes that North Korea is about to launch a rocket into space as North Koreans insisted. The remark by National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair is the first by any U.S. official amid conflicting reports about the nature of the rocket Pyongyang is threatening to launch. U.S. officials have said that the North's claim to shoot a communications satellite into space is a cover to test a ballistic missile capable of reaching the mainland U.S. "It is a space-launch vehicle that North Korea launches," Blair told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. "The technology is indistinguishable from intercontinental ballistic missile, and if a three-stage, space-launch vehicle works, then that could reach not only Alaska, Hawaii, but also part of the, part of what the Hawaiians call 'the Mainland,' and what the Alaskans call 'the Lower 48.” He said he "tended to believe that the North Koreans announced that they were going to do a space launch, and I believe that that's what they intend. I could be wrong, but that would be my estimate."

  • Japan will extend sanctions against North Korea for six months and may consider additional measures if the communist country tests a ballistic missile, Nikkei English News said, without citing anyone. The sanctions, imposed in October 2006, include a ban on the import of North Korean goods and stop its citizens from entering Japan, the report said. Japan’s Cabinet will approve the extension of the sanctions, due to expire on April 13, early next month, the report said.

  • North Korea and the U.S.-led United Nations Command (UNC) in South Korea ended their high-level military border talks Friday (13 Mar) , officials said, as Pyongyang stepped up its warnings against an upcoming U.S.-South Korea military drill. The latest round of talks at the borderline truce village of Panmunjom "only lasted 45 minutes," a South Korean defense ministry official said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity. The official declined to discuss the agenda.

  • KPA Supreme Command Orders All Personnel to Be 'Fully Combat Ready' (KCNA): The madcap Key Resolve and Foal Eagle are extremely adventurous and dangerous military provocations which can be seen only on the eve of a war and an undisguised military threat to the DPRK and a sort of a declaration of a war. The revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK have grown stronger thanks to the songun [military-first] politics under the care of the great illustrious commander of Mt. Paektu. They will never remain a passive on-looker to the prevailing situation now that dark clouds of war are gathering to hang over the homeland and armed clashes are imminent. The KPA Supreme Command issued an order to all the servicepersons to be fully combat ready and follow every move of the aggressors with vigilance in view of the grave situation prevailing in the country and deal merciless retaliatory blows at them, should they intrude into the sky and land and seas of the DPRK even an inch.

  • Scores of South Koreans scheduled to return from a joint industrial park in North Korea could not cross the border Monday (09 Mar) after the North cut off the last remaining inter-Korean communications channel, a Seoul spokesman said. About 80 people who were scheduled to return by 5 p.m. from the inter-Korean complex in the North Korea's border town of Kaesong were not able to make the trip, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun said. North Korea severed the inter-Korean channel earlier in the day in protest against an ongoing South Korea-U.S. military drill and said the closure will continue until the drill ends on 20 Mar. It was the last such communications line to remain open after Pyongyang closed several others last year in retaliation to the Lee Myung-bak government's hardline policy.

  • The Seoul government said Friday (13 Mar) that North Korea is violating international law by threatening the safety of South Korean flights in its airspace and urged Pyongyang to stop its military warnings. "To militarily threaten the normal operations of civil airplanes not only violates international rules but is also an inhumane act that can never be justified," said Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun. Tension has risen sharply on the Korean Peninsula since North Korea said it is "compelled to declare that security cannot be guaranteed for South Korean civil airplanes" in its airspace, adding to concerns that Pyongyang may be preparing for a missile launch.

  • North Korea reopened its borders to South Koreans visiting a joint industrial complex in the communist state, a day after it severed inter-Korean communications, Seoul officials said. "A North Korean military official notified us that the North will allow passage through the military demarcation line as of 10 a.m.," Seoul's Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun said. The North will keep the channel closed until the drill ends on March 20, the spokesman said. South Koreans can cross the border only after North Korea is notified of their planned arrival through the military communication channel.

  • Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan on 11 Mar called on North Korea to drop its smear campaign on the South and abandon its tactics to stoke tension with a missile launch. "North Korea must refrain from provocative action such as vilifying South Korea, threatening to launch a missile and banning access to Gaeseong Industrial Complex, and should now return to inter-Korean talks," Yu said at a meeting with the members of the European Chamber of Commerce. Once the talks restart, Yu said the two Koreas could discuss ways for easing inter-Korean tension, intensifying economic cooperation and providing humanitarian aid for the impoverished North.

  • South Korea's top defense official said Tuesday (10 Mar) North Korea's military threats have increased across the board, even though the communist state has "nothing to gain" by raising tension. "The recent series of provocative and tension-raising rhetoric and acts are not only straining inter-Korean relations but also making it impossible to rule out the possibility of clashes in land, sea and air," Lee told a group of about 210 newly commissioned officers graduating from an Army academy in Seoul. "We will push to make (North Korea) realize that there is nothing to earn through acts that raise tension and that such moves will never be of help."

  • South Korea and the United States kicked off one of their largest joint military exercises on Monday (09 Mar) amid fears North Korea may test-fire a long-range ballistic missile in protest. The Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercise, which mobilizes over 25,000 U.S. troops, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and tens of thousands of South Korean soldiers, has been dubbed by North Korea as a prelude to war. The drill, slated to end on 20 Mar is genuinely defensive, its organizers say, even though the North warned of "consequences" during two rounds of general-level talks with the U.S.-led U.N. Command in South Korea last week.

  • The international community should "maintain heightened control over" the situation in the Korean region in connection with increased tension between South Korea and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Vasiliy Likhachev, deputy chairman of the Federation Council international relations committee, said in a broadcast of Ekho Moskvy radio. "Reports from the Far East, which are far from positive, attest to the fact that the international community has not exhausted all the resources and means for a comprehensive settlement of the situation,”

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, have called on the countries involved to refrain from activities that could undermine security on the Korean Peninsula in connection with the aggravation of the situation in the region, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced on 11 March after a telephone conversation between the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers. "During the discussion about the situation in North East Asia, serious concern was expressed about the aggravation of the situation on the Korean Peninsula," the ministry said. "The ministers called on the countries involved to show restraint and equanimity and refrain from any activities that could undermine security and stability in the region," it added.

  • Loaded with missiles capable of intercepting a flying rocket, a pair of argus-eyed U.S. destroyers glided into a South Korean port this week along the east coast where North Korea appears determined to launch what it calls a space satellite. The USS Chafee and the USS Stetham, docked at Donghae Harbor about 130 kilometers south of the intensely guarded inter-Korean border, are among at least six U.S. warships deployed around South Korea as part of the 12-day joint defense exercise that began Monday (09 Mar).

  • Barack Obama won last year's historic presidential election on a pledge to bring change to the United States. But there is at least one area in which no substantial change is expected -- U.S. policy on North Korea. U.S. experts say the new team dealing with the reclusive country will not seek to change how they try to resolve the issue surrounding Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions, namely through the six-party talks. Tension on the divided Korean Peninsula is expected to escalate further this week, as South Korea and the United States plan to kick off their joint military exercise as scheduled, despite a series of North Korean threats.

  • President Lee Myung-bak received a rare briefing from his security-related ministers Monday as North Korea continues to escalate tensions with threats of war and other hostile measures aimed at South Korea. The content of 09 Mar's special briefing was not immediately released. An official at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae, however, tried to downplay the significance of the briefing, saying it is customary procedure following the president's overseas trips.

  • North Korea's combative language is unproductive and destabilizing for the Korean Peninsula, a U.S. State Department spokesman said Monday (09 Mar). U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises aren't threats to the region, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said during a news briefing. "What is a threat to the region is this bellicose rhetoric coming out of the North." "The North is the party that is, you know, preparing to launch missiles, has launched missiles in the past," Wood said. "Its actions are of concern not just to the United States and the (South Korea), but to the entire international community."

  • A North Korean freighter sailing through the Jeju Strait collided with a South Korean fishing boat, leaving one man injured, the local Coast Guard said Tuesday (11 Mar). The Coast Guard said the 1,790 ton Nampo-based ship collided with a 29-ton fishing boat from Uljin on Monday off the coast on Yeosu, 455 km southeast of Seoul. Of the 12 South Korean crew members, one was taken to a nearby hospital after complaining of chest pain.

  • Kim Hyun-hui, a self-confessed North Korean terrorist responsible for the mid-air bombing of a South Korean jet in 1987 and now a housewife living in South Korea, stepped into the spotlight again Wednesday in an emotional meeting with the family of a Japanese woman kidnapped by Pyongyang three decades ago. The event in this southern port city bolstered Tokyo's efforts to garner support at home and abroad to press North Korea to settle the abduction issue, which involves more than a dozen Japanese nationals.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

In and Around North Korea: 28 February - 06 March 2009

  • South Korea on Monday (02 Mar) appointed Wi Sung-lac, special assistant to Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan, as its new chief envoy on the North Korean nuclear issue, the ministry said. Wi served as minister for political affairs at the South Korean embassy in Washington from 2004-2007 after leading the foreign ministry's North American affairs bureau from 2003-2004.

  • The U.S. pointman on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, has no plans to meet with North Korean officials during his three-nation Asian trip this week, the State Department said Monday (02 Mar). Not as far as I know," deputy spokesman Gordon Duguid said in a daily news briefing. "That's what I know today." Bosworth, special representative for North Korea, Monday embarked on a nine-day trip to Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul to discuss resumption of the six-party talks, stalled over North Korea's refusal to accept a protocol for verification of its nuclear facilities.

  • Russian Vice Foreign Minister Aleksei Borodavkin, who heads the country's delegation to the six-way talks on North Korea's nuclear program, will visit South Korea next week to discuss Seoul-Moscow relations and ways to advance the stalled negotiations, a diplomatic source said Tuesday(03 Mar). He may also meet Stephen Bosworth, the new U.S. point man on Pyongyang, during his trip here, the source added. Bosworth is scheduled to arrive in Seoul on Saturday (07 Mar) for a four-day stay as part of his regional tour that also includes stops in China and Japan.

  • U.S. special representative on the issue of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) Stephen Bosworth said that the new U.S. administration remained committed to removing nuclear facilities on the Korean Peninsula. Bosworth made the remarks at a briefing here Wednesday (04 Mar) after meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, saying that the United States' aim of removing nuclear facilities will not change.

  • North Korea warned Saturday (28 Feb) that U.S. troops stationed in the South should stop what it called "provocative actions" along the military demarcation line, pledging to take stern action if its message goes unheeded. North Korean military officials notified their counterparts in the South, the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said, claiming that provocations by U.S. troops in the area are intensifying and could trigger "unpredictable military conflicts." "If the U.S. forces keep behaving arrogantly in the area under the control of the North and the South, the KPA (Korean People's Army) will take a resolute counteraction," the statement read.

  • DPRK Delegate on UN Peace-Keeping Operations (KCNA): It is abnormal that the "UN Command," unhampered by the UN, remains in Korea, without getting any orders or financial support from the UN, still now though over half a century has passed since the ceasefire there. The "UN Command" present in South Korea is nothing but the U.S. command and the "UN forces" there are no more than the GIs. The U.S. insistence on the upkeep of such "UN Command" is aimed to perpetuate the U.S. military occupation of South Korea and cover up the aggressive nature of its forces by abusing the name of the UN.

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Il made more than three times the number of public visits this month than the same month last year, the Seoul government said Friday (06 Mar). Kim appeared publicly 15 times this month, compared to an average 5.3 visits he made in February between 2000 and last year, said the Unification Ministry. This year's figure was the highest since he took the reins of the country after his father and North Korean founder Kim Il Sung’s death in 1994.

  • Conservative newsletters in South Korea specializing in North Korean affairs on 01 Mar said Kim Jong Un, the youngest son of the North’s supreme leader Kim Jong Il, is the heir apparent. Rumors are also swirling that the son threw a party Feb. 16 for high-ranking military officials to mark his father’s 67th birthday. Citing North Korean sources, Cho Bong-hyeon, a researcher at Industrial Bank of Korea Research Institute in Seoul, said, “Kim Jong Un invited the top brass to his father’s birthday party Feb. 16.” “His rating badge indicated he was a lieutenant general at the operations department of the (North) Korean People`s Army.”

  • A report of the Central Election Committee was published on 04 Mar. According to the report, since leader Kim Jong Il sent an open letter to all voters throughout the country to inform the citizens that he decided to register as a candidate for deputy to the Supreme People's Assembly at Constituency No. 333 for the election of deputy to the 12th Supreme People's Assembly, the nomination and registration of candidates for deputies to the 12th SPA have been successfully finished at all other constituencies of the country.

  • The results of general elections in North Korea slated for Sunday (08 Mar) will present a clearer picture of which politicians will support supreme leader Kim Jong Il and his successor. A report by the South Korean Unification Ministry presented to the National Assembly yesterday mentioned six politicians among the 20 most frequently mentioned by the North’s official daily Rodong Shinmun last year as rising stars in Pyongyang’s hierarchy. The six were not mentioned in 2007. One North Korea expert said, “North Korea’s leadership has been controlled by Kim Jong Il. Those frequently mentioned by media can be considered powerful politicians. After the elections Sunday, North Korea’s political elite will be replaced. In the process, we need to pay more attention to the rising stars.”

  • Shanghai Dongfang Weishi (Dragon TV) in Mandarin carried during its regular midday news cast a report on the DPRK lifting its ban on cell phones. The report says the DPRK government recently lifted the ban on cell phones. It says that a rush to buy cell phones developed shortly after the announcement. The report says that people expect cell phones to dramatically change their lives. Footage shows a man telling reporters that cell phones make life more convenient. To this date, more than 6,500 own a cell phone, according to the report.

  • The U.S. House of Representatives has set aside US$2.5 million for energy aid to North Korea this year despite stalled six-party talks over how to verify its nuclear facilities. The enabling legislation, formally known as the 2009 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill, which passed through the House last week, pegs the release of the funds on North Korea's fulfillment of its obligation under a six-party deal to disable its nuclear infrastructure. "None of the funds made available under the heading Economic Support Fund in fiscal year 2009 may be made available for obligation for energy-related assistance for North Korea unless the secretary of state determines and reports to the Committees on Appropriations that North Korea is continuing to fulfill its commitments under the six-party talks agreements," the bill says.

  • South Korea urged North Korea to take "necessary measures" to address its abysmal human rights record at the regular session of the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday (03 Mar). "My government, sharing the serious concerns of the international community regarding the dire human rights conditions in the DPRK (North Korea), urges that the latter take necessary measures to improve its human rights situation in full compliance with its obligations under international human rights law and relevant treaties to which it is a party, said South Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Shin Kak-soo.

  • North Korea appears to have begun assembling a rocket that it claims will carry a satellite into space, a South Korean source said Friday (27 Feb), despite warnings to stop what neighbors call preparations to test-fire a long-range missile. "It appears that (North Korea) has begun assembling the rocket on the ground," the source said, expecting the work to be completed in a week at the earliest. The North has moved what appears to be its longest-range Taepodong-2 missile to a base in its northeast several weeks ago, and has begun assembling radars and other monitoring equipment. "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," a South Korean official said earlier Friday, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to disclose such information to the media.

  • In an exclusive interview with ABC News' Martha Raddatz, Adm. Timothy Keating, head of the U.S. Pacific Commands, said that the military is prepared to shoot down any North Korean ballistic missile -- if President Obama should give the order. "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." "Should it look like it's not a satellite launch -- that it's something other than a satellite launch -- we'll be ready to respond."

  • The Heritage Foundation, a U.S. conservative think-tank, has released a documentary film which stresses the necessity of a missile defense system in a bid to protect America from "enemies'' including North Korea and Iran. Introducing a seven-minute preview of the film "33 Minutes,'' sub-titled "Protecting America in the New Missile Age,'' the institute claimed the government should establish the defense system against ballistic missiles capable of hitting the country within 33 minutes.

  • Japan plans to deploy an Aegis-equipped destroyer carrying the Standard Missile-3 interceptor to the Sea of Japan to prepare for a possible North Korean missile launch in case it is aimed at Japan, defense sources said Tuesday (03 Mar). North Korea says it is preparing to launch a satellite but Japan's missile defense guideline provides that the defense minister may order an intercept when a rocket to launch a satellite is feared to fall onto Japanese soil or into Japanese territorial waters. ''We would have no other choice but to intercept,'' said a senior Maritime Self-Defense Force officer, referring to a scenario in which a missile or a rocket is launched and judged headed for Japan.

  • North Korea's preparations for what it claims will be a satellite launch continue apace, though an actual launch does not seem imminent, Seoul's unification minister said Wednesday (04 Mar). Hyun In-taek, a foreign policy expert who took office last month as Seoul's point man on Pyongyang, also said South Korea takes "seriously" the North's continuing criticism of President Lee Myung-bak and demanded Pyongyang stop its verbal attacks. "I don't think the launch is very imminent, but various preparations are underway," Hyun said in his first meeting with the press.

  • US Congressional Research Service (CRS) claimed through a report that North Korea produced 20 Taepodong-2 (TD-2) missiles by 2006. In a report titled “North Korean Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States”, CRS stated that, “Some believe North Korea first started the TD-2 missile production in 2005 and that by 2006, 20 TD-2 missiles were manufactured.”

  • North Korea has exported more than 1,000 scud missiles and missile-related parts to the Middle East region, earning nearly $1.5 billion annually, a report said. The Independent Working Group, a U.S. foreign policy think tank, claims in its newly released report "Missile Defense, the Space Relationship & the Twenty-First Century" that the Stalinist regime has expanded arms trade and is providing technologies associated with its Taepodong-2 intercontinental ballistic missile to Middle East countries including Syria and Iran. "Missile exports, which net North Korea some $1.5 billion a year, constitute one of its largest sources of revenue," said the report. "The Kim Jong-il regime has become a principal supplier of ballistic missile components and associated technologies to the Middle East."

  • Cash-strapped North Korean shippers smuggle narcotics and other contraband, but there's little evidence that the communist state's rusty merchant fleet transports illicit weapons, a report said on Thursday (05 Mar). British North Korea expert Hazel Smith said her detailed study of North Korean merchant shipping showed a fleet of only 242 ageing vessels faces too much scrutiny in the world's ports to be a significant conduit for weapons of mass destruction.

  • North Korea voiced its routine criticism Monday (02 Mar) against a planned South Korea-U.S. joint military exercise at the first high-level talks with the United Nations Command (UNC) in nearly seven years, a defense source said. "North Korea filed lengthy complaints against the plan to hold the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercise and the situation involving the U.S. military deployment on the Korean Peninsula," the source said after the general-level talks between the North and the UNC. In response, the UNC reaffirmed that the annual drills are a defense-oriented exercise, unrelated to preparations for any attack.

  • North Korea and the U.S.-led United Nations Command will hold a series of additional meetings this week to discuss ways to alleviate tension on the divided peninsula, officials said Tuesday (03 Mar). North Korea and the U.N. Command will reopen their talks on Wednesday (04 Mar) and Friday (06 Mar), South Korean officials said on condition of anonymity. Kim Yong-kyu, a spokesman for U.S. Forces Korea, confirmed the talks are scheduled for this week, adding colonel-level talks will precede general-level discussions.

  • Military officers from North Korea and the U.S.-led U.N. Command held more talks Thursday (05 Mar) on easing tensions as the communist state renewed claims that an upcoming military exercise is a prelude to war. The colonel-level meeting set the agenda for a second round of talks at general-level on Friday (06 Mar), the United Nations Command said in a statement. The meeting at Panmunjom, inside the Demilitarized Zone which splits North and South Korea, lasted for 45 minutes, a Command spokesman said. Generals from the two sides met Monday (02 Mar) for the first such talks in almost seven years, but sources said the North used the occasion to criticize the March 9-20 military drill. The annual joint exercise will this year involve a U.S. aircraft carrier, 26, 000 U.S. troops and more than 30,000 South Korean soldiers. The "slightest" military conflict which may break out during the exercise can rapidly develop into "a thermonuclear war," the North's government newspaper Minju Joson said Thursday (05 Mar).

  • North Korea warned Thursday (05 Mar) it can no longer assure the safety of South Korean passenger planes flying over the East Sea, protesting an upcoming joint military drill by South Korea and the United States. "Under the situation ... no one knows what military conflicts will be touched off," the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said. North Korea is "compelled to declare that security cannot be guaranteed for South Korean civil airplanes flying through the territorial air of our side ... and its vicinity above the East Sea of Korea," the committee said in a statement carried by the North's Korean Central News Agency in English. The threat comes as North Korea is preparing to launch what is believed to be a long-range missile from a base on its east coast.

  • The Seoul government said Friday (06 Mar) that North Korea is violating international law by threatening the safety of South Korean flights in its airspace and urged Pyongyang to stop its military warnings. "To militarily threaten the normal operations of civil airplanes not only violates international rules but is also an inhumane act that can never be justified," said Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun.

  • "South and North Korea have agreed to seek peaceful coexistence and co-prosperity, while recognizing and respecting each other. I am going to respect these inter-Korean agreements," said President Lee Myung-bak at a ceremony marking the 90th anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement. Lee said he is "not negative" toward two inter-Korean agreements, the June 15, 2000 Joint Declaration and the Oct. 4, 2007 Statement, which North Korea claims the Lee administration is unwilling to respect.

  • North Korea has notified South Korean companies in a joint industrial complex in the North of detailed labor standards, according to the Ministry of Unification Wednesday (04 Mar). The notice stipulated that a company will be fined up to $2,000 if it fails to pay salaries to employees for one month, and face a 10-day suspension of business if delaying payment for two months, a ministry official said.

  • The North Korean government has penalized a South Korean firm at the Kaesong industrial complex by banning local employees from working there, Seoul officials said Thursday, amid mounting border tension. The sanction marks the first time for the North to penalize a South Korean company for pollution time since the complex opened in 2005.

  • The United States Thursday (05 Mar) reiterated that it will not develop ties with North Korea at the cost of relations with South Korea, urging the North to refrain from escalating tensions with provocations. The secretary made very clear in her press conference in Seoul that we are not interested in developing relations with North Korea at the expense of relations with South Korea," Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said in a news conference at the National Press Center. "And she also made very clear our view that North Korea should be doing much more to work on its relationship with South Korea."

  • Military officials of South Korea and the United States met in Seoul on Monday (02 Mar) to coordinate the transfer of wartime operational command and the relocation of U.S. troops stationed in the country, the Ministry of Defense said. Seoul and Washington have regularly hosted their Security Policy Initiative (SPI) talks since 2005 to discuss military issues between the allies. Monday's talks, the 21st of the kind, coincided with rare military talks held between North Korea and the U.S.-led United Nations Command, during which Pyongyang criticized South Korea-U.S. joint military drills set for March 9-20.