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2008/09/11 11:24 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 20 (September 11, 2008)


N. Korean Orchestra Delays Britain Tour Due to Funding: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A concert tour to Britain by North Korea's orchestra scheduled for this month has been postponed because of funding problems, a U.S. radio report said on Sept. 4.

   North Korea's State Symphony Orchestra had planned to perform in London and Middlesbrough, a mid-sized city in northeast Britain, on Sept. 17 and 19 in what appeared to be a sign of the socialist country reaching out to the world.

   But the trip was postponed indefinitely after an English bank retracted its sponsorship of the tour citing a current credit crunch, the Washington-based broadcaster Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported, quoting the chief organizer, British opera singer Suzannah Clarke.

   "We'll replace the funding, but it will take time and a lot of effort," Clarke was quoted as saying. "The bank said that because of the credit crunch and other economic difficulties they could not provide the sponsorship they were expected to."
It will cost at least 400,000 pounds (US$720,000) to fund the trip, she added.

   Clarke said she will visit North Korea next month to discuss the funding problems with Pyongyang officials and again in the first half of next year to organize a detailed concert program.

   A native of Middlesbrough who has performed in North Korea, Clarke has been trying to put the event together with six others, including David Heather, a British businessman, Glyn Ford, a member of the European Parliament, and David Alton, member of the British House of Lords who chairs a Britain-North Korea joint parliamentary group.

   Established in 1946, the North's orchestra has often performed in Eastern Europe but has never performed in the West.


N. Korea Waiting for 'Strong Signals' from Seoul for Resuming Talks: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is willing and ready to resume strained reconciliation talks with South Korea, but will do so only if Seoul's conservative government shows strong commitment to previous agreements reached between the divided Koreas, a German legislator was quoted as saying on Sept. 5 in Pyongyang.

   Hartmut Koschyk, chairman of the German-Korean parliamentary group, said the socialist country is waiting for Seoul to send "strong signals," Germany's DPA news agency reported.

   Koschyk's remarks came after a meeting with the North's titular head of state, Kim Yong-nam, the president of the presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, the report said.

   "Inter-Korean relations depend on how South Korea acts," Koschyk quoted Kim as saying.

   This is the first time a ranking North Korean official has suggested a possible solution to the impasse in inter-Korean dialogue.

   North Korea walked away from all official talks with South Korea shortly after Seoul's Lee Myung-bak government was inaugurated in February, citing a series of remarks by Seoul's new governing officials that it claimed hinted at increased hostility, if not a preemptive strike, against Pyongyang.

   Koschyk said the North especially wants to see Seoul's clear commitment to agreements reached at inter-Korean summits in 2000 and 2007.

   However, the Lee Myung-bak administration has repeatedly expressed its commitment to upholding and even improving the summit agreements, which call for various economic and social projects that can help improve the North's staggering economy and reconcile the divided Koreas.


WFP Says N. Korea Will Accept Food Aid from S. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea, going through "a very dire period" before the harvest season, will not reject aid from South Korea despite recent political chills, the World Food Program's (WFP) North Korea director said on Sept. 7.

   "The DPRK (North Korea) is currently going through an agricultural lean season" just before harvest time, Jean-Pierre de Margerie said in an email interview with Yonhap News Agency, calling the North by its official name, Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). "WFP estimates that this is a very dire period in terms of food security."

   The United Nations aid agency says North Korea will slip back to famine unless given aid worth about US$500 million in the next 15 months and has formally asked South Korea to contribute US$60 million for its campaign in North Korea.

   South Korea has yet to respond to the appeal. Seoul suspended direct shipments of food to the North after the conservative Lee Myung-bak government took office in February on a pledge to pursue inter-Korean relations on a reciprocal basis.

   The Lee government later proposed talks with the North to send 50,000 tons of corn through the WFP, but the North has not responded to the offer amid chilled ties between the two nations.

   Margerie ruled out any possibility that Pyongyang would reject Seoul's aid, calling on South Korea to act on the offer.

   "In the 13 years WFP has operated in the country, the DPRK government has accepted the multilateral character of WFP food assistance and has never rejected funds from a particular donor through WFP," he said.

   He also brushed off concerns in the South that Seoul's aid may go unnoticed in the North, saying "WFP indicates who the donor is with bag markings" as its standard practice.

   The Seoul government remains tepid over large-scale food aid for North Korea, with public sentiment worsening after the July shooting death of a South Korean tourist in the North's Mt. Kumgang resort.


Inter-Korean Business Cooperation Generates US$27.6 bln Economic Impact

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Inter-Korean business cooperation has generated around $27.6 billion in economic benefit for South Korea since the landmark summit talks between the leaders of the two Koreas eight years ago, a report showed on Sept. 7.

   Increased cooperation following the South-North summit of 2000 contributed to enhancing South Korea's national image, boosting domestic demand and reducing the potential costs of future unification by easing tensions on the peninsula, Hyundai Research Institute said in the report.

   The two Koreas still remain technically at war, as the 1950-53 Korean War ended only with an armistice agreement, not an official peace treaty. But the summit talks in June 2000 helped ease tensions and laid the groundwork for more business-sector exchanges, observers say.

   Eased tensions and improved national credit ratings helped South Korea save an estimated $7.7 billion in interest payments over the past eight years, the report said.

   According to the report, the spread for government bonds declined by 1.63 percentage points to 0.6 percent in late March of this year compared with June 2000. The lower the spread, the less a country pays to borrow money from overseas markets.

   The decline in part reflects falling global interest rates and the growth in South Korea's economy, but the report ascribed 0.5 percentage-point cut to expanded inter-Korean business cooperation, which led to an improved national image and sovereign credit ratings.

   Domestic demand also grew as the two Koreas cooperated in building and running an industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Kaesong, as well as a tourist resort in the North's scenic Mt. Kumgang. The industrial complex and tourist program are the crowning achievements of the 2000 summit talks.

   The report estimated that exchanges made through the two projects have resulted in around $1.62 billion in economic benefits for South Korea by boosting employment and investment in Seoul.

   South-North business cooperation also helped ease tension and reduce military spending, benefiting South Korea's defense sector. A total of $18.1 billion was estimated to have been saved in defense spending since the summit talks, the report showed.


U.S. Can't Confirm If N. Korea Began Removing Seals on Reactor: State Dept.

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The U.S. State Department said on Sept. 8 it cannot confirm reports that North Korea has begun removing seals on its nuclear reactor in the first step toward reactivating the plant, which had been disabled under a multilateral nuclear deal.

   "The assessment that we have right now -- and admittedly it's imperfect -- is that they are just taking some of those steps like taking some of the equipment out of storage, where it had been, perhaps taking off some of those seals, which I can't confirm," spokesman Sean McCormack said. "That's the prism through which you should see this right now."

   Reports said North Korea has removed the seals applied by the International Atomic Energy Agency under the deal signed by the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia, citing Washington's failure to take North Korea off the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

   The U.S. has not yet delisted the North due to a lack of agreement on verifying North Korea's nuclear programs. Pyongyang responded by declaring it will stop disabling its plutonium-producing reactor and will consider restoring it.

   Christopher Hill, U.S. assistant secretary of state, just concluded a trip to Beijing, but failed to meet with North Korea's chief nuclear envoy, Kim Kye-gwan, spawning speculation that North Korea has no intention of negotiating further with the outgoing Bush administration.

   "There are verbal threats to reverse the process, there are preparations to reverse the process, and actual reversal of process," McCormack said. "I think that they're probably somewhere in that second step in terms of taking preparations to try to reverse it."

   The spokesman demanded that "equipment and the seals, if broken, be returned."
He urged the North to "focus their energies on completing a verification regime," saying, "If they complete a verification regime, we have every expectation that this process can move forward."

   Hill said in Beijing over the past weekend that Washington will delist Pyongyang as soon as the North presents a complete verification protocol.

   McCormack expressed hope that China will play a greater role in persuading the North to come out with the much-awaited verification regime.

   "I think China will play a key role in trying to move it forward," he said. "They're the chair of the process, and it's also well-known that they have a unique relationship -- I guess is the way to put it -- with North Korea, a relationship that no other state enjoys."