In the News – North Korea’s cult of personality surrounds Kim

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In the News – North Korea’s cult of personality surrounds Kim

The man before me is not yet 30. He stands, perhaps a little unsure of himself, a nervous tic in his shoulders seeming to betray his unease.

Before him is one of the largest armies on the planet. It is a war machine, still fighting a battle from more than half a century ago.

They move in lockstep, legs kicking and arms swinging as one, discipline and focus measured in millimeters.

A vast arsenal of weapons, missiles and tanks, pass by. The cost of this show of military might has been paid in the suffering of the people it is primed to defend. Aid groups say thousands have starved here; meanwhile, the army has grown fat.

The young man eyeing all of this is master of all he surveys. This is North Korea, and the man is Kim Jong Un.

Kim Jong Un named marshal of North Korean army

This was a rare glimpse indeed of a man who now rules the notorious hermit kingdom. In April this year, North Korea opened its doors to the world’s media. CNN was there to cover the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the country’s founding father, Kim Il Sung.

The eternal president and “Great Leader” had passed power to his “Dear Leader” son, the erratic, eccentric Kim Jong Il. Now a third generation Kim, the so-called “Supreme Leader,” stood on the shoulders of his forebears.

He gained power by birthright, but the world is watching as he attempts to rule in his own right.

“He is the youngest head of state in the world,” said analyst Patrick Chovanec. “There’s still a lot of debate about how much power he has, whether other family members are in control or the military.”

Reading North Korean tea leaves

His soldiers certainly pay lip service to their loyalty.

These men are combat ready, never forgetting they have a sworn enemy in the United States.

“With the strategy of the great leader Kim Il Sung, the dear Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un with our bombs and weapons we will destroy them,” they tell me.

But beyond the war rhetoric are the realities of leading an impoverished, isolated and paranoid country.

As I stood below him at this military parade, my mind wandered to the young Kim’s thoughts. What would have been going through his mind? We’re told he was educated partly in Switzerland, loves music and western movies and is a huge basketball fan.

But the country he rules is largely sealed off from the outside world. People here mostly don’t have telephones; they never get exposure to foreign television, newspapers or films. The world is defined by endless statues, portraits and tributes to the cult of the Kims.

What Kim’s ‘mystery woman’ says about North Korea

When CNN visited Pyongyang, North Korea was putting on its most intimidating face.

But amid this display of what the regime called power and prosperity was the lone voice of the young leader.

For the first time North Koreans heard him speak.

This is why he appeared nervous.

Kim Jong Un mouthed the usual threats and warnings, but there was something different: an acknowledgment that North Korea must find a better future.

“Our fellow citizens, who are the best citizens in the world, who have overcome countless struggles and hardships, it is our party’s firmest resolve not to let our citizens go hungry again,” he said.

It was an important, if veiled, concession. Yes, North Korean people had suffered. Yes, the regime was responsible — not just for the past but a better future.

“This was really his introduction. A few years ago no one even knew he existed but they’re being told to worship him,” Chovanec said.

Our government-assigned minders escorted us around the city. They were there to make sure that what we saw and heard was strictly according to the party line.

In North Korea it is impossible to separate what is genuine and what is just for show.

In the streets of the capital, Pyongyang, we were given a glimpse of the great future Kim Jong Un was promising.

We were taken to bustling neighborhoods, saw families shopping, cars on the street.

But all of this only served to hide another harsher reality. Outside this showcase city, life was so very different.

In the bleak countryside, aid groups say people continue to starve. Defectors tell of surviving on little more than corn. Children are reportedly malnourished and have stunted growth.

All the while billions of dollars are still spent on high-tech missiles and nuclear weapons.

This is the essence of this secretive country.

Kim Jong Un may struggle to emerge from the shadows of his father and grandfather, but the gun here looms even larger. As young and green as he is, he knows this much: Without it, his rule and the regime itself will not survive.

Original Article

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In the News – S. Korea, Japan set to sign military pact Friday: official

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In the News – S. Korea, Japan set to sign military pact Friday: official

SEOUL, June 28 (Yonhap) — South Korea is set to sign a military pact with Japan on Friday, marking the first military agreement between the two historical rivals, a senior Seoul official said Thursday, despite lingering bitterness over Tokyo’s colonial atrocities.

Japan notified South Korea that its Cabinet would approve the pact Friday and the signing will be made in Tokyo immediately after the endorsement, the foreign ministry official said. South Korea’s Cabinet already approved the pact on Tuesday.

The pact, named the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), allows Seoul and Tokyo to exchange delicate military intelligence on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs as well as information about China, Seoul officials said earlier.

“If things go as planned, the two nations will sign the pact on Friday,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae said he could not confirm the notification from Japan, but conceded the deal could be signed on Friday.

“I think signing of the pact will be possible tomorrow afternoon if there is no particular problem,” Cho told reporters during a press briefing.

Cho denied media speculation that South Korea was prodded to sign the agreement by the United States, which has urged Seoul and Tokyo, its two closet Asian allies, to strengthen military ties amid growing hostility from North Korea and the rise of China.

However, the spokesman stressed the need to increase three-way military cooperation between Seoul, Washington and Tokyo.

“Many people would agree in principle that Korea-U.S.-Japan cooperation is important in terms of our security, but it is not the truth that the pact has been hastily pushed,” Cho said.

About 28,500 U.S. troops, mostly ground soldiers, are stationed in South Korea and more than 35,000 U.S. troops, mainly consisting of navy, air force and marines, are stationed in Japan.

Ministry officials said the U.S. forces in Japan would become a rear guard for the U.S. forces in South Korea in case of hostilities on the Korean Peninsula.

Officials said the pact with Japan is taking aim at the rise of China, allowing Seoul and Tokyo to share sensitive military information about Beijing.

Since early 2011, Seoul and Tokyo have been in talks to forge two military pacts, the GSOMIA and an accord on military logistics called the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA).

Seoul decided to shelve the ACSA, which could allow Japanese troops to enter South Korean territory, because of its sensitivity.

However, the official hinted at going ahead with the military logistic pact with Japan.

“Talks on the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement have been shelved because more time is needed for further consultations,” the official said.

South Korea’s ambassador to Japan, Shin Kak-soo, and Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba are likely to sign the military intelligence pact in Tokyo on Friday, according to the official.

South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin had planned to visit Japan last month to sign the GSOMIA but put the visit on hold due to some territorial and other unresolved issues that have arisen from their shared past. Japan ruled the Korean Peninsula as a colony from 1910-45.

Military cooperation is one sensitive area that needs to be addressed in Seoul-Tokyo relations, but the two nations have lately agreed on the need to expand cooperation in the defense sector in the face of increasing military threats from North Korea, especially after the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Many Koreans still harbor deep resentment toward Japan because of its brutal colonial rule. A series of disputes over history and territorial issues stemming from the colonial rule have plagued relations between the two countries for decades, though they are key trading partners for each other.

A North Korean propaganda media outlet criticized the South Korean government for moving to sign the pact with Japan, calling it an “unpatriotic act.”

The article posted on Thursday on the Uriminzokkiri (Among our People) Web site run by North Korea claimed that, “There is an urgent reason for South Korea to sign a military pact with Japan. That is the pressure from the United States.”

The article also described the pact between South Korea and Japan as a “confrontation and cooperation agreement” against North Korea.

Original article can be found here.

In the News – China to Reconsider N.Korean Investment Program

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In the News – China to Reconsider N.Korean Investment Program

China has told North Korea that it will reconsider a dubious development project on North Korea’s Hwanggumpyong island.

The island located on the border between China and North Korea was designated a special economic zone last June. North Korea promised to lend the island to China for 50 years so Beijing can foster IT, tourism, light industry and modern agricultural industry there. In return for the development project from Chinese investors, North Korea would give China access to its Rajin port on the East Sea.

However, the Chinese government told North Korea last month that it will review the project from the scratch, apparently because it believes the island has little business value. North Korea’s rocket launch in April despite Chinese protests may also have provoked the rethink.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – North Korea Tests the Patience of Its Closest Ally

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In the News – North Korea Tests the Patience of Its Closest Ally

BEIJING — As Kim Jong-un, the young leader of North Korea, consolidates his grip on power, China is showing signs of increasing frustration at the bellicose behavior of its longtime ally.

Since succeeding his father, Kim Jong-il, six months ago, Mr. Kim has quickly alienated the Obama administration and put North Korea on track to develop a nuclear warhead that could hit the United States within a few years, Chinese and Western analysts say.

Most surprising, though, is how Mr. Kim has thumbed his nose at China, whose economic largess keeps the government afloat. For example, shortly after Mr. Kim took over, a Chinese vice minister of foreign affairs, Fu Ying, visited Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, and sternly warned him not to proceed with a ballistic missile test. The new leader went ahead anyway.

Now, the Obama administration and the Chinese government, who warily consult each other on North Korea, are waiting to see if Mr. Kim will follow in his father’s footsteps and carry out a nuclear test, which would be North Korea’s third. The previous tests were in 2006 and 2009.

This month, the North Korean news agency said there were no plans for a third test “at present,” a statement analysts said suggested Mr. Kim was just waiting for a moment that better suited him.

“We have made this absolutely clear to them; we are against any provocation,” Cui Tiankai, another Chinese vice minister of foreign affairs, said in a recent interview when asked about a possible third nuclear test by North Korea. “We have told them in a very direct way, time and again, we are against it.”

Asked why China did not punish North Korea for its actions, Mr. Cui replied: “It’s not a question of punishment. They are a sovereign state.”

China backed sanctions against North Korea at the United Nations Security Council after the first two nuclear tests, he said. “If they refuse to listen to us,” he added, “we can’t force them.”

Mr. Kim’s erratic behavior unfolded early on. In late February, his government signed an agreement with the United States to freeze its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, giving hope that he would turn out to be more open to change than his father. But six weeks later, Mr. Kim ripped up the accord and, without informing China, ordered the missile test that Washington viewed as a test run for launching a nuclear weapon.

The missile test, in April, was a failure, but that did little to alleviate concerns within the Obama administration that Mr. Kim was intent on pushing ahead with its nuclear weapons program. “The North is on track to build a warhead that could in a few years hit any regional target and eventually the United States,” said Evans J. R. Revere, a former United States principal deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

Since the failed missile test, Mr. Kim has formalized North Korea as a “nuclear armed state” in the Constitution, another signal that the government has no intention of giving up its nuclear program, Mr. Revere said. With virtually no contact between the United States and North Korea, Mr. Revere argued, it is time for Washington to toughen its approach.

In a series of quick maneuvers, Mr. Kim, whose exact age is not known (he is believed to be 28 or 29), assumed the mantle of power immediately after his father’s death and cast aside early assumptions that his tenure would be a regency largely run by his elderly relatives.

The China News Service, a state-run agency, headlined an article last week: “Smooth transfer of power six months after Kim Jong-il’s death. North Korea enters era of Kim Jong-un.” The top North Korean Army generals, some of them in their 80s, have joined ranks around Mr. Kim, presenting a unified command, said Daniel A. Pinkston of the International Crisis Group in Seoul, who has written a forthcoming report by the group on North Korea.

At a congress of the ruling Communist Party in April, members of the Kim family were appointed to senior positions in the Politburo. The new appointees included Kim Kyong-hui, a younger sister of Mr. Kim’s father. Her husband, Chang Song-taek, also won a spot on the Politburo.

“There are no indications of any opposition to the transfer of power in the party, state or military,” Mr. Pinkston said. “Although many North Koreans are dissatisfied with the government, the barriers to collective action make it very risky and nearly impossible to organize any resistance.”

To recover from the embarrassment of the failed missile test, Mr. Kim unleashed a bellicose warning to South Korea in late April, threatening that a “special operations action” team would “reduce to ashes the rat-like” leadership of President Lee Myung-bak.

In contrast to his taciturn father, Mr. Kim has been seen more in public, particularly with students and children, a propaganda campaign intended to present a more benign image to an impoverished and embittered population.

On the basis of his years at a Swiss boarding school, Mr. Kim was thought by some analysts to be a potential economic reformer. These assumptions have turned out to be misplaced, and the new leader has shown no interest in following the advice of China to open up the economy, even in a modest way.

Despite Mr. Kim’s obstinacy, China keeps the economy from collapsing. Right after Mr. Kim assumed power, for example, China gave North Korea 500,000 tons of food and 250,000 tons of crude oil, according to the International Crisis Group report. That helped overcome what a German aid official, Wolfgang Jamann, said in Beijing on Friday was the worst drought in 60 years. His organization, Global Food Aid, has run a food program in North Korea since 1997.

“If it continues not to rain, it would be a problem,” said Mr. Jamann, who just returned from a trip to North Korea.

So far, though, the aid seems to have prevented disaster. According to South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, food shortages, while still grim in many rural areas, do not seem as serious as might be expected, given the drought.

China’s generosity has not bought it immunity against North Korean rancor. More than two dozen Chinese fishermen were held captive for two weeks by North Korea in May. After their release, one of the fishermen described how his boat was boarded by North Korean Navy men brandishing guns.

After “13 days in hell,” the fishermen were released, according to interviews in the Chinese news media. But not before the boats and men were stripped, the men to their underpants, the fisherman said.

Such behavior ignited protests on Chinese Web sites, and normally calm Chinese analysts who follow North Korea said they were infuriated by the indignities. “I was disappointed in our government’s soft line during the incident with the seized boats,” said a Chinese analyst who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of angering his superiors.

Nonetheless, senior Chinese officials “dare not use China’s economic leverage” against North Korea, said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. That is because a collapse of the North Korean government could result in a united Korea allied with the United States, which would be a nightmare scenario for China, Mr. Shi said.

Indeed, as China becomes more concerned about what it sees as the United States’ stepped-up containment efforts against China — including the positioning of more warships in the Pacific — the less inclined it is to help the United States on North Korea, said Yun Sun, a China analyst in Washington.

“China will not help the U.S. and South Korea solve the North Korea problem or speed up a China-unfriendly resolution, since China sees itself as ‘next-on-the-list,’ ” she wrote in an article last week for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Hawaii, where Pacific Command, the arm of the American military overseeing the increased United States naval presence in the Pacific, is located.

And over all, there are unyielding historical reasons for China’s protectiveness toward North Korea, said an experienced American diplomat and expert on China.

“Beijing disapproves of every aspect of North Korean policy,” J. Stapleton Roy, a former United States ambassador to China and now vice chairman of Kissinger Associates, wrote in an article this month, also for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

But with long memories of both the Korean War and how Japan used the peninsula to launch its invasion and occupation of much of China from 1937 to 1945, “Beijing has an overriding security interest,” Mr. Roy wrote, “in maintaining influence in Pyongyang and in not permitting other powers to gain the upper hand there.”

Original article can be found here.

Visiting North Korea during the Era of Kim Jong Un

In recent news, North Korea has prepared to launch a satellite into space. However, this move has been met with much antagonism by the United States because it seems to defy the motions of the United Nations should the satellite be a move to test missile technology that would one day send threats of nuclear warfare. The BBC’s broadcaster, Damian Grammaticas, who is based in Beijing, China, gained permission to enter North Korea at the time of this controversy, symbolic of the transparency with which the North Korean authorities intended to launch the satellite. In his BBC article, Grammaticas relates that the North Korean authorities wanted to launch the satellite in commemoration of the hundredth birthday of Kim Il Sung, the founding father of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Throughout his article, “Exploring North Korea’s Contradictions,” Grammaticas describes his impressions of the North Korean landscape. Visiting the countryside outside of Pyongyang, Grammaticas emphasizes the emptiness of the roads and the bleakness of the empty shop windows as he exits the city. Of the city itself, Grammaticas relays, “Being here, in the world’s last Stalinist state, feels like being transported back in time. North Korea often looks like a place marooned, a survivor from an age when Soviet republics, with their strongmen rulers, were common.” He then continues the article with a explanation of the preparation Pyongyang’s people made for the celebrations that would enliven the next few days – city repairs were made, flowers were assembled, roadsides were cleaned, images of Kim Il Sung were hung throughout the city, plans for the launch of the satellite were being settled. Continue reading

In the News – N. Korea ‘can’t have’ status of nation with nuclear weapons: Seoul

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In the News – N. Korea ‘can’t have’ status of nation with nuclear weapons: Seoul

SEOUL, May 31 (Yonhap) — North Korea “can’t have” the status of a nation possessing nuclear weapons, South Korea said Thursday, responding to a report that North Korea recently revised its constitution to proclaim itself as a nuclear-weapon state.

An official Web site run by North Korea and monitored by Yonhap News Agency on Wednesday in Japan, carried the full text of the reclusive communist nation’s revised constitution that included the term “a nuclear-armed state.”

“At first, nuclear-weapon state status is in line with the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but North Korea itself has admitted that it is not a member of the NPT,” foreign ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae said.

North Korea backed out of the NPT in early 2003, right after the outbreak of the so-called second nuclear crisis in late 2002.

Cho called on North Korea to “implement its commitments and give up all nuclear weapons programs from the September 19 joint statement.”

Under the 2005 agreement, North Korea pledged to give up its nuclear programs in return for security guarantees and economic assistance from five nations participating in the six-party talks. But Pyongyang boycotted follow-up negotiations by making a series of unacceptable demands.

There are concerns that North Korea, which conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, may soon carry out a third nuclear test to make amends for the failed launch of a long-range rocket on April 13.

North Korea has been under U.N. sanctions following the two nuclear tests.

“As North Korea continues to ignore promises with the international community and breach international laws, it will only deepen its isolation,” Cho said.

The text of the North’s amended constitution reads that its late leader Kim Jong-il, who died last December, “has turned our fatherland into an invincible state of political ideology, a nuclear-armed state and an indomitable military power, paving the ground for the construction of a strong and prosperous nation.” The revision was made during a parliamentary session in April.

The North’s previous constitution last revised on April 9, 2010 didn’t contain the term nuclear-armed state.

Some analysts in Seoul said the North Korean constitution’s proclamation of a “nuclear-armed state” is expected to cast further clouds over the prospects of resuming the long-stalled six-party talks that bring together the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the U.S.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – 30 North Korean officials involved in South talks die ‘in traffic accidents’

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In the News – 30 North Korean officials involved in South talks die ‘in traffic accidents’

In its annual study, Amnesty International claimed that in addition to the 30 who died in purges last year, a further 200 were rounded up in January this year by the State Security Agency as Pyongyang carried out the transfer of power from Kim Jong-il, who died of an apparent heart attack in December, and his 29-year-old son, Kim Jong-un.

Of those 200, Amnesty said, some were apparently executed and the remainder were sent to political prison camps. The gulag system presently contains an estimated 200,000 people in “horrific conditions,” the group said.

North Korea has a habit of executing bureaucrats who are perceived to have failed the regime, even though they are often merely carrying out the orders of higher-ranking officials or members of the ruling family.

In 2010, Pak Nam-gi, the former head of the finance department of the Workers’ Party, was reportedly executed by firing squad for the catastrophic attempt to reform the impoverished nation’s currency. The result was rampant inflation and food shortages became even more acute.

The 30 men executed for failing to improve Pyongyang’s ties with Seoul are considered scapegoats for the new low point in inter-Korean ties.

Their task would have been made immeasurably more difficult given North Korea’s insistence with pushing ahead with its development of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

In spite of universal condemnation of its failed attempt to launch what Pyongyang claimed was a rocket to put a satellite into orbit in April, North Korea appears to be putting the finishing touches to a test detonation of a nuclear device.

Kim Min-seok, a spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of Defence, said on Thursday that intelligence reports indicate the North has completed its technical preparations to carry out the long-awaited test and that it could go ahead at any time.

Satellite images of the Punggye-ri site and other data show that the tunnel that had been excavated for the test has been refilled, indicating that the nuclear device has been put in place.

There is speculation that the test may be timed to coincide with the Memorial Day national holiday in the United States, which falls in Monday.

“The North Korean regime is hell-bent on being a belligerent actor,” said Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chair of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, during a visit to Seoul with a congressional delegation. “And I think that on holidays or sad commemorations like Memorial Day weekend is when the leadership tries to provoke the democratic allies into action.”

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – U.S. Officials in Secret Visit to N.Korea Before Rocket Launch

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In the News – U.S. Officials in Secret Visit to N.Korea Before Rocket Launch

Two senior U.S. figures apparently flew to Pyongyang aboard a U.S. Air Force plane in a secret mission six days before North Korea’s failed rocket launch on April 13.

“At around 7:40 a.m. on April 7, a U.S. Air Force Boeing 737 entered North Korea,” a diplomatic source in Seoul said. “The aircraft flew from Guam and into North Korea along the same route on the West Sea used by former President Kim Dae-jung during his visit to the North back in 2000.”

Experts speculate that the plane carried Joseph Di Trani, a nuclear negotiator in the George W. Bush administration, and Sydney Seiler, a National Security Council advisor to U.S. President Barack Obama.

The secret visit appears to have been a last-ditch effort by Washington to stop North Korea from pressing ahead with the rocket launch.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – U.S. to mull food aid for N. Korea if it changes direction: White House

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In the News – U.S. to mull food aid for N. Korea if it changes direction: White House

By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, May 23 (Yonhap) — A White House official said Wednesday that the U.S. will again consider food aid for North Korea if it stays away from provocations and averts a confrontational course.

“I think the precondition is that North Koreans have to demonstrate that they are going to refrain from those types of provocative actions and they are serious about moving in a different direction,” Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said at a press conference for foreign reporters.

He pointed out that Washington has lost trust in the communist regime as it reneged on a bilateral deal by launching a long-range rocket in April.

The two sides reached an agreement on Feb. 29, nicknamed the “Leap Day Deal,” after high-level talks. It called for the North to suspend some of its nuclear activity and put a moratorium on missile launches.

In exchange, the U.S. promised to deliver 240,000 tons of food. Washington halted a related process after the North’s rocket launch.

Rhodes said the U.S. is not convinced that food, if shipped, will reach ordinary people in need such as mothers, children and pregnant women.

He stressed that the U.S. remains open to bilateral and multilateral talks with the North.

But he expressed skepticism that Pyongyang will change its mode.

“We haven’t seen that indication yet,” he said. “Right now we not optimistic that there will be any imminent breakthrough that could lead to the provision of additional assistance.”

On a trip to Northeast Asia, meanwhile, Washington’s point man on Pyongyang also said food assistance is still a viable option depending on the North’s attitude.

“I think as you all know the United States has been historically very generous when it comes to the provision of nutritional assistance,” Glyn Davies, special representative for North Korea policy, told reporters after meetings with Chinese officials in Beijing.

The U.S. has provided more than 2.2 million metric tons of food, valued at over $850 million, to North Korea since the mid-1990s, he noted.

“And should the opportunity present itself, if we can reach a stage where we can once again have faith in the North Koreans’ ability to abide by its undertakings and its promises, we would like very much to get back to the provision of nutritional assistance,” he said.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – N.Korea Denies Imminent Nuclear Test

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In the News – N.Korea Denies Imminent Nuclear Test

North Korea on Tuesday claimed it never planned to conduct a nuclear test and its missile tests were purely for scientific research. A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said the regime “from the beginning” never envisaged “such a military measure as a nuclear test,” and the aim of a failed rocket launch last month was to put a satellite into orbit for peaceful purposes.

The North was responding to a statement on Saturday from the G8 nations condemning the April 13 rocket launch and pledging tougher UN sanctions against the Stalinist country in response to any further provocations or a nuclear test.

North Korea then accused the U.S. of condemning it without good reason by taking issue with the peaceful satellite launch and of ratcheting up tensions by spreading what it called “rumors” of an impending nuclear test.

But an intelligence official here insisted the North has nearly finished preparations for a third nuclear test at a facility in Punggye-ri, North Hamgyong Province and that the only thing left is for Pyongyang to officially announce the move. “We have learned from U.S. and South Korean intelligence data that a few more specialized vehicles entered the shaft at the Punggye-ri site, proving that the North is preparing for a nuclear test as we speak,” a South Korean military source said.

Citing military think tank IHS Jane’s Defense and Security Intelligence and Analysis, CNN reported Tuesday that afresh activity has been detected at Punggye-ri related to an impending nuclear test. IHS Jane’s analyzed recent photos taken by private satellite operators Digital Globe and GeoEye showing mining cars and other digging equipment near the shaft, and soil and rocks being moved out.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman warned that the regime has no choice but to bolster its nuclear arsenal while the U.S. keeps up “hostile” acts. “If the US persists in its moves to ratchet up sanctions and pressure on us despite our peace-loving efforts, we will be left with no option but to take counter-measures for self-defense,” the spokesman said.

But the denial itself was unusual. Experts speculate the statement was an excuse for the delay of the nuclear test, which was believed to be imminent. “This is related to speculation that North Korea postponed the nuclear test due to pressure from China,” said Yoo Ho-yeol at Korea University. “North Korea is trying to save face by pretending it has not caved into pressure from China but never planned a nuclear test in the first place.”

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – Lee calls for greater attention to N. Korea’s human rights record

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In the News – Lee calls for greater attention to N. Korea’s human rights record

SEOUL, May 23 (Yonhap) — South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Wednesday North Korea’s human rights record is an issue as important as its nuclear or missile programs, and should be dealt with more urgently than other matters.

Lee made the remark during a meeting with a group of U.S. lawmakers, including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the chairwoman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, presidential spokeswoman Lee Mi-yon said.

“The issue of North Korea’s nuclear test or a missile launch is of the same weight of significance as the issue of North Korea’s human rights,” Lee was quoted as saying. “The issue of human rights for the North Korean people should rather be dealt with more urgently.”

The lawmakers promised to pay more attention to the human rights issue, the spokeswoman said.

Ros-Lehtinen and five other Congressmen arrived in Seoul Tuesday for a four-day visit that includes talks with Lee, meetings with the unification minister handling relations with Pyongyang and the first vice foreign minister, as well as a visit to the border with the North. Continue reading

In the News – North Korea evading UN luxury goods ban to smoke, drink, drive: panel

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In the News – North Korea evading UN luxury goods ban to smoke, drink, drive: panel

(Reuters) – Ten thousand rolls of tobacco, 12 bottles of Sake, and a handful of second-hand Mercedes-Benz cars are among the latest reported breaches byNorth Korea of a U.N. ban on luxury goods sales to the reclusive state, according to a confidential draft U.N. report.

Japan told a U.N. panel of experts that Pyongyang also imported thousands of computers and thousands of dollars worth of cosmetics and that almost all the goods were shipped through China, it was reported in the draft seen by Reuters on Thursday.

The five North Korean violations reported to the panel by Japan during the past year took place between 2008 and 2010. The panel was also informed of another two potential violations, but they have not yet been officially reported by Japan.

Two rounds of U.N. sanctions imposed on Pyongyang for its 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests ban the sale of luxury items to the state’s government. It was also hit with an arms embargo and is forbidden from trading in nuclear and missile technology.

The panel also said it was investigating reports of possible North Korean weapons-related sales to Syria and Myanmar, as well as other reports of arms-related violations.

The report, which was submitted to the U.N. Security Council’s sanctions committee this week, said implementation of the luxury goods ban was “deeply problematic” because it was up to each country to create a blacklist and not all had done so.

“Also the DPRK (North Korea) is able to exploit differences between such lists, where they exist, to avoid bans in one member state by shopping in another – and the panel sees little evidence of information sharing between member states on what might be included on these lists,” the report said.

WHAT’S A LUXURY?

“Definitions of luxury goods by member states are not consistent. Chinese customs officials told the panel that most of the above mentioned goods were not considered as luxury goods by China,” it said.

The panel of experts wrote that Pyongyang residents and visitors said luxury cars were seen in the city and that luxury goods – both authentic and forgeries and including expensive liquors and cosmetics – were widely and openly available.

“All this indicates that the ban on luxury goods has not yet disrupted effectively the supply of such goods either to the DPRK elite or to the rising Pyongyang middle class,” it noted.

The U.N. panel also said it was collecting more information about media reports that the U.N.’s World Intellectual Property Organization may have violated the sanctions by shipping computers and computer servers to North Korea.

The panel visited Italy to obtain documents on several cases of previously reported violations, including a foiled attempt by North Korea to import high quality U.S.-made tap dancing shoes valued at almost $200 a pair.

The experts also traveled to Switzerland to investigate sales of Swiss luxury watches to Pyongyang.

“The panel learned that hardly any watch sales to DPRK are in the luxury category,” the report said.

“The panel concluded that any luxury watches sold in the DPRK most likely are sourced elsewhere. Industry officials pointed out that manufacturers had little control over who purchased their watches once globally distributed,” it wrote.

Original article can be found here.

In the News – ‘North Korea may have aborted launch’

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In the News – ‘North Korea may have aborted launch’

By Kim Young-jin

North Korea may have intentionally crashed its long-range Unha-3 rocket last month due to problems in staging, a U.S. missile expert said Monday.

David Wright, a senior scientist and co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, put forward the possibility among a range of scenarios in an analysis of the failed April 13 launch that sent regional tensions soaring.

The rocket failed shortly after liftoff, dealing an embarrassing blow to the fledgling regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command said the first stage of the missile fell into the sea 165 kilometers west of Seoul, some 300 kilometers from the launch site. Local reports estimated the splashdown occurred closer to 400 kilometers from the site.

“North Korea reportedly announced prior to the launch that the rocket was equipped with a flight termination system that would allow operators to shut down the engines manually if the ground station detected a problem,” Wright wrote on 38 North, a website focused on North Korean affairs.

“It is possible that if, as some sources have suggested, the first stage burned to completion but there was a problem with staging, that the North may have aborted the flight at that point.

“For example, if the launcher was seen to be deviating from the intended trajectory, it is possible that it was destroyed intentionally.”

The move earned the North a U.N. Security Council statement that expanded sanctions on the cash-strapped country. Tensions remain high as Pyongyang has reportedly made some preparations to carry out a third nuclear test.

The expert said that based on open source information it remains impossible to determine the exact cause of the failure and that more data on possible irregularities in the flight path and operation of the engines would shed light on whether the flight was aborted.

If splashdown occurred at 300 kilometers, analysts say the failure likely occurred during the operation of the first stage, before staging took place.

The expert said a splashdown at 400 kilometers would raise another possibility.

“That would suggest that the first stage worked essentially as intended, but that ignition and separation of the second stage did not occur properly so that it fell with the first stage into the sea at this location,” he said, adding portions of the rocket could also have landed at both places.

The North insists the launch was meant to put a satellite into orbit for science. But it was widely condemned as a ballistic missile test amid concerns that Pyongyang is working to build long-range missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – N.Korea ‘Spent Enough on Nukes to Buy Food for 8 Years’

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In the News – N.Korea ‘Spent Enough on Nukes to Buy Food for 8 Years’

Chronically hard-up North Korea has spent a total of US$6.58 billion on nuclear weapons development and now has a dozen bombs, including three uranium weapons, a South Korean expert claims. The expert, who requested anonymity, said the money would have been enough to buy 1,940 tons of corn from China or eight year’s worth of rations for the North Korean people.

Since the 1980s, North Korea spent $2.01 billion on building nuclear facilities including those in Yongbyon, $310 million on related research, $2.72 billion to operate the facilities, $1.34 billion to develop nuclear weapons, and $200 million on nuclear tests, he claimed.

North Korea says it operates 2,000 uranium-enrichment centrifuges. If that is true, it would be able to produce 40 kg of highly enriched uranium per year. Since it takes 15 to 25 kg of uranium to produce one nuclear weapon, North Korea may have developed one to two uranium bombs a year, the expert explained.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – U.N. committee sanctions three North Korea companies

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In the News – U.N. committee sanctions three North Korea companies

Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, speaks to the media at UN headquarters in New York, May 2, 2012.REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS | Wed May 2, 2012 4:41pm EDT

(Reuters) – A U.N. Security Council sanctions committee on Wednesday added three North Korean state companies to a U.N. blacklist of firms banned from international trade in response to Pyongyang’s rocket launch last month.

The decision by the Security Council’s North Korea sanctions committee came after China consented to sanctions on the trio of companies. It falls far short of the roughly 40 firms the United States, European Union, South Korea and Japan had wanted to blacklist after Pyongyang’s launch.

The newly blacklisted firms are “very significant North Korean entities” involved in Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said. Continue reading

In the News – N. Korea believed to have enriched uranium for up to 6 bombs: expert

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In the News – N. Korea believed to have enriched uranium for up to 6 bombs: expert

SEOUL, May 2 (Yonhap) — North Korea is believed to now have enough large stocks of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium for up to six bombs, a local nuclear expert said Wednesday, amid growing concerns that the North may be ready for a new nuclear test.

The North has long been believed to have enough radioactive material for six to seven bombs using plutonium from its main nuclear complex located at Yongbyon, north of the capital Pyongyang. Since 2009, Pyongyang appears to have started relying on enrichment activities because of its dwindling stock of plutonium after two rounds of nuclear tests.

In November 2010, North Korea disclosed an industrial-scale uranium enrichment plant to a visiting U.S. scientist, claiming that the enrichment program is for peaceful energy development. Outside experts, however, believe that it gives the North a new source of fissile material to make atomic bombs. Continue reading

North Korea’s Embarrassing Rocket Launch

If you’ve kept up with the news at all, you may know about North Korea’s recent failed rocket launch. I know it’s been in the news quite a lot but I thought I’d provide a simplified version of what happened.

This past March, North Korea and the United States entered negotiations once again. The United States offered to provide 240,000 metric tons of nutritional assistance if North Korea would “freeze its nuclear and missile tests, along with uranium enrichment programs, and allow the return of U.N. nuclear inspectors.” This was big step both for North Korea and the U.S. because it meant that the North would possibly be giving up its biggest weapon and it also meant that the United States would be sending food aid to the impoverished country for the first time since 2009. It was also the first time North Korea and the U.S. had official talks since Kim Jong Un came to power. Thus, these negotiations had a lot of meaning because it would have determined DPRK’s future relationship with the United States. Continue reading

In the News – Students Targeted for Rocket ‘Rumors’

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In the News – Students Targeted for Rocket ‘Rumors’

North Korea detains university students over a failed rocket launch.

North Korean students work on their computers at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang, April 11, 2012.

Authorities in North Korea are hunting down college students suspected of “spreading rumors” about a recent failed rocket launch amid warnings the reclusive state may stage a nuclear test.

North Korea defied international warnings and fired a long-range rocket on April 13 saying that it would carry a satellite into space, but the rocket crashed into the sea just minutes after takeoff, drawing condemnation from the U.S. and its allies who called the act a “provocative” move.

New leader Kim Jong Un had shrugged off international concerns and pushed ahead with the launch in conjunction with the 100th birthday of his grandfather Kim Il Sung, the deceased founder of the state.

Now, according to students, security personnel at some universities in North Korea are being instructed to take those who talk about the rocket failure into custody.

“The authorities are hunting down students who have spread rumors about the failed launch of the Kwangmyung-sung-3 [satellite] at the Hoeryong Teacher Training College (now renamed Kim Jong Suk Teacher Training College),” said one student from North Hamyong province, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Continue reading

In the News – U.S., allies urge sanctions for North Korea firms; China resists

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In the News – U.S., allies urge sanctions for North Korea firms; China resists

(Reuters) – The United States, European Union, South Korea and Japan have submitted a list of about 40 North Korean companies to the U.N. Security Council’s sanctions committee for possible blacklisting due to Pyongyang’s recent rocket launch, envoys said on Tuesday.

The committee, which includes all 15 Security Council members, received an initial response from China that it would only consent to adding two entities to the U.N. list of banned North Korean firms, which the United States and its allies see as too few, envoys told Reuters on the condition of anonymity.

“The U.S., Europeans, Japan and ROK (South Korea) have together produced a list of around 40 entities to be designated by the 1718 Committee,” a senior diplomat told Reuters. “The challenge remains as usual squarely on PRC (China).”

The United States was continuing to press China to allow more North Korean firms to be sanctioned, envoys said. Continue reading

In the News – Satellite photos show intense activity at N. Korea nuclear site

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In the News – Satellite photos show intense activity at N. Korea nuclear site

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Satellite images of North Korea’s nuclear test site shows “lots of activity” in preparation for another underground bomb test, analysts who have studied the aerial surveillance of the prohibited weapons site said Friday.

The 38 North website of the U.S.-Korea Institute of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies posted three satellite photos showing the progression of work at the blast site over the last seven weeks.

“We can tell there has been a lot of activity at the site. You can see vehicles moving around, objects being moved around. They’ve been digging a lot of dirt out of the tunnel,” said Joel Wit, a visiting scholar at the institute and editor of the website on North Korea. “But, at end of day, you can’t really tell whether it’s ready or not.”

Diplomatic and intelligence sources have been warning for weeks that a nuclear test — in defiance of international warnings to Pyongyang — appeared to be imminent. Continue reading