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2008/09/25 10:56 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 22 (September 25, 2008)

   *** INTER-KOREAN RELATIONS

Pyongyang Presses Seoul, Washington in Energy Aid Talks

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Amid the stalemate in the six-party talks, South and North Korean nuclear envoys held their first meeting in two months on Sept. 19 -- the third anniversary of a multinational deal to end the communist nation's nuclear programs -- to discuss energy aid to the North.

   But North Korean officials demanded that the U.S. stop demanding an "unacceptable" verification regime and immediately take Pyongyang off the terror list. North Korean officials also dismissed as complete nonsense rampant reports on the reclusive nation's leader Kim Jong-il's latest health setbacks.

   The denuclearization process is currently in a stalemate as North Korea reportedly prepares to restart its main plutonium-producing reactor that had been disabled under the agreements. The move is viewed as aimed at putting pressure on the U.S. to take Pyongyang off the list of terrorism sponsors. Washington has asked Pyongyang to first cooperate in a plan to verify its recent nuclear declaration.

   During a meeting at the truce village of Panmunjom, the North Korean envoy to the energy talks, Hyon Hak-bong, said that his country is making "thorough preparations" to restart its main plutonium-producing facilities in Yongbyon.

   In addition, Hyon, deputy chief of the U.S. affairs bureau at the North's Foreign Ministry, said that the latest reports on the health setbacks of leader Kim Jong-il "are the mere sophistry of bad people who do not want our country to fare well."

   He was briefly talking to a group of South Korean reporters shortly after walking across the inter-Korean border to attend talks on energy aid. The one-day meeting between the two Koreas, proposed by Pyongyang, was aimed at implementing a disarmament deal agreed upon last year at the six-way talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program.

   On Sept. 19 three years ago, North Korea signed an agreement with its dialogue partners in the six-way talks to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for political incentives and massive economic assistance. Its partners are South Korea, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan.

   "North Korea proposed the meeting this time," a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said before the meeting. "The resumption of the talks is meaningful in itself, and we will closely watch the North's stance."

   The five nations promised to provide 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil or its equivalent to the energy-starved communist state, of which nearly half has been delivered so far. South Korea chairs an energy aid working group under the six-party framework.

   The North agreed to complete the disabling of the Yonbyon reactor by October, while the other nations are committed to wrapping up the delivery of fuel oil and energy-related equipment by the same month.

   North Korea announced on Aug. 26 that it had halted the disabling of the reactor and planned to restore it. Less than a week later, the North took equipment out of storage in what was seen as the initial steps to reactivate the reactor, which had been disabled under its compromise with the other six-party partners.

   He emphasized that the North submitted a list detailing its nuclear activity as agreed in the Oct. 3 agreement last year and completed about 90 percent of the disabling. But the U.S. has yet to provide promised political incentives, especially the removal from the list, he said.

   Hyon called it a breach of the six-way agreement, which is based on the principle of action-for-action. "The U.S. is seeking to visit (nuclear) sites at random without prior notice, collect samples, and analyze them with related equipment. It means coercive inspection," he claimed.

   He said Washington's request is reminiscent of its pre-war activity in Iraq. "Look at Iraq. The U.S. ransacked Iraq, even its presidential palace, arguing weapons of mass destruction exist there based on false intelligence reports," he pointed out. "After all, the U.S. invaded Iraq. It is a serious matter. The fundamental problem lies here."

   Hyon's South Korean counterpart, Hwang Joon-kook, expressed worries that the denuclearization process is taking a backward step. "We expect the verification issue to make progress and the disabling and the energy aid to be implemented as planned," said Hwang, director general of the South Korean Foreign Ministry's North Korean nuclear issue bureau.

  
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S. Korean Civic Groups Resume Visits to N. Korea After Tourist's Death

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea began allowing liberal civic groups to resume sending large-scale delegations to North Korea some two months after the shooting death of a South Korean tourist in the North, amid worsening ties with Pyongyang and increasing uncertainty over the health of the North's leader and his state's nuclear ambitions.

   On Sept. 20, two progressive South Korean organizations left for Pyongyang with approval from their government, marking the first visit by a non-relief group since a South Korean woman was shot dead by a North Korean soldier in early July.

   The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), the more militant of the country's two umbrella labor groups, said a 13-member delegation left for a five-day visit to Pyongyang on Sept. 20.

   On Sept. 22, a 96-member delegation of the Catholic Priests' Association for Justice flew into Pyongyang to hold a special mass.

   Seoul had halted tours to the North Korean resort of Mt. Kumgang, just north of the DMZ, in response to the killing of Park Wang-ja, 53, and has been discouraging non-charity groups from traveling to North Korea for inter-Korean exchange programs. The two groups' previous requests for government approval were turned down amid chilly ties between the two Koreas.

   The KCTU delegates, all public transportation workers, held talks with their counterparts from the North's General Federation of Trade Unions on ways to enhance cooperation between the two Koreas' workers, Woo Mun-sook, spokeswoman for the KCTU, told Yonhap News Agency. They were set to also go sightseeing at Mount Myohyang in North Pyongan Province, Woo said.

   During their five-day stay ending Sept. 26, the delegation of Catholic priests was scheduled to visit Mount Myohyang and Mount Paektu, near the North's border with China, the association said.

   The visits came after Seoul allowed the Korean Sharing Movement, a Seoul-based charity group, to send a 136-member delegation on Sept. 20 for a four-day visit to Pyongyang and Mount Paektu.

   On Sept. 20, a large-scale South Korean civic delegation flew to North Korea on a trip to monitor aid distribution, officials said. North Korea allowed the four-day trip by the 136-member delegation from Korean Sharing Movement at a sensitive time, as the international community is on alert over Kim's health amid a stalemate in the six-party efforts to denuclearize the socialist country.

   The South Koreans, including about a dozen journalists, left Seoul on a chartered flight, Unification Ministry officials said. "The government basically is positive to North Korea visits by civic groups engaging in humanitarian aid, and will be so in the future," Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun said on Sept. 19, announcing the delegation's trip.

   Officials said the South Koreans were to attend a ceremony to mark the completion of a medical center and other related facilities that their aid group helped to build in Pyongyang. Their itinerary also included plans to monitor the distribution of aid materials and a visit to Mount Paektu.

   Another group of 15 activists, advocates of the inter-Korean summit agreement of 2000, left for Pyongyang on Sept. 23 with permission from Seoul. They were to discuss ways to enhance exchanges with their northern counterparts in Pyongyang, officials said.

   Analysts say the recent decision to allow visits to the North come as Seoul apparently feels the need to prevent ties with Pyongyang from worsening.

   "The government appears to be taking into account that if inter-Korean relations deteriorate further, that will only provide cause for North Korea to arm itself with nuclear weapons," a North Korea expert said, requesting anonymity. "Seoul currently has no leverage in resolving the nuclear crisis due to worsening ties with North Korea," the expert said.

   In a related move, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Sept. 22 again urged Pyongyang to resume reconciliatory talks, saying he respects the spirit of all inter-Korean agreements, including the two summit accords.

   Lee's remark, made during a presidential panel meeting on reunification policy, is seen as a further softening of his initial position toward Pyongyang's demand that he respect and implement the two accords.

   Relations have chilled since Lee took office in late February, vowing to take a tougher stance toward Pyongyang over its human rights record and its nuclear activities, among other issues. The death of the South Korean tourist also increased tensions.

   Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun said the government will positively consider future requests by additional groups to visit North Korea. Eight more groups hope to send delegations of around 100 members each, he said.

  (END)