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2008/10/23 10:48 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 26 (October 23, 2008)


IAEA Dissatisfied with Role in Verifying N. Korean Nuke

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The U.N. nuclear watchdog has expressed discontent over the limitations of its projected role in verifying North Korea's atomic weapons program, a South Korean government official said on Oct. 16.

   International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director Mohamed ElBaradei delivered the position to South Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Kwon Jong-rak during their meeting earlier this week at the agency's headquarters in Vienna, the official said.

   "The IAEA director expressed regret that his agency will play a consultative and support role, not a leading role, in verifying North Korea's nuclear program," the Foreign Ministry official said. He asked not to be named, as his ministry has not made public the meeting between ElBaradei and Kwon.

   ElBaradei presented several reasons why the IAEA should spearhead the verification process, including the fact that it is the world's most authoritative body on inspection of nuclear facilities, according to the official. He provided no other details.

   North Korea has agreed to allow the U.S. and the four other dialogue partners in the disarmament talks to take part in the verification process. In return for the compromise announced last weekend, Pyongyang was removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. The four nations are South Korea, China, Russia, and Japan.

   The deal gives the IAEA "an important consultative and support role," though specific details on the nature of the IAEA's role have yet to be decided.

   North Korea has balked at the IAEA's participation in the verification process, apparently mindful of the agency's demand for "special inspections" of the secretive nation's nuclear facilities in the early 1990s.

   Those inspections were aimed at granting inspectors access to nuclear installations unannounced and without prior approval from Pyongyang. The North rejected the IAEA proposal and withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

   Under the latest verification deal, however, international experts must have Pyongyang's consent before inspecting sites not included in the North's June declaration of its nuclear inventory.


N. Korea Reapplies Seals on Nuclear Reactor: State Dept.

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea has reapplied all the seals to its plutonium-producing nuclear reactor and restored all the surveillance equipment it removed from its nuclear facilities in recent weeks, the U.S. State Department said on Oct. 17.

   The resumption of the disabling of its nuclear facilities comes one week after the North agreed Saturday to allow access to its nuclear facilities and undeclared sites by U.S. and other international inspectors by "mutual consent" in a major breakthrough in the nuclear talks involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

   Washington then lifted the North from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, and Pyongyang responded by resuming disabling of its nuclear facilities, which it stopped in August.

   "What I am told is, first, on the reactor, that the North Koreans have, in their efforts, reversed all their reversals in the reactor," spokesman Sean McCormack told a daily news briefing. "All the seals are back on. The surveillance equipment is back, reinstalled, and the equipment that had been removed is back where it had been."

   McCormack said North Korea has removed 60 percent of the fuel rods from the reactor to "actually go beyond where they were prior to their reversing the disablement steps."

   "Now, on the reprocessing and fuel fabrication facilities, they have not yet gotten to that baseline where they were before," he said, adding Washington was satisfied "thus far" with Pyongyang having changed course to continue the disabling of its nuclear facilities.

   The spokesman said "actual dates" are being discussed on the timing of next round of six-party talks, but added no specific dates have been fully agreed upon.

   South Korean and U.S. officials have expressed their hope that the fresh round of the multilateral talks will be held by the end of October in consideration of the Nov. 4 presidential election in the U.S.

   The six-party talks last were held in July when North Korea agreed to disable its nuclear facilities by the end of October in return for one million tons of energy or equivalent aid to be provided by that time.


Latest U.S. Grain Shipment to North Korea Departs

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The latest shipment of food aid from the United States to North Korea, comprising 25,000 tons of corn and other grains, has made its departure from the U.S. state of Virginia, a U.S. radio station reported on Oct. 18.

   The Mary-Ann Hudson, a U.S. cargo vessel carrying 20,000 tons of corn and 5,000 tons of beans, left from Norfolk, Virginia, on Friday and is scheduled to arrive at North Korea's western port of Nampho on Nov. 18, Radio Free Asia reported, citing a spokesperson of World Vision.

   In June, the U.S. started shipping the first batch of some 500,000 tons of food aid, which it pledged to deliver to the North over a year-long period, through the World Food Programme (WFP).

   Previous shipments were organized by the WFP, but the latest round is conducted jointly by relief organization World Vision and four other relief agencies, according to the spokesperson.

   Since the late 1990s, when an estimated 1-3 million North Koreans starved to death, the North has prioritized its agricultural sector while accepting foreign aid to help feed its population of 23 million people.


Seoul Says Has No Information on N.K.'s 'Important Announcement'

SEOUL/SHENYANG (Yonhap) -- South Korea's government has no confirmed intelligence related to Japanese reports that North Korea was planning an 'important announcement' this week, its Unification Ministry said on Oct. 19.

   In a related development that also runs counter to Japanese media reports, North Korean diplomats stationed in China are not showing any unusual activities, according to sources in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang, close to the North Korean border.

   "I have heard the rumors with regard to North Korea's imminent 'important announcement,' but I have no information to give you at the moment," Kim Ho-nyoun, spokesman for the Unification Ministry, told reporters.

   Speculations about North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's health resurfaced this weekend following reports by the Sankei Shimbun and the Yomiuri Shimbun that North Korea has ordered its diplomats not to leave their missions, as it plans to make an important announcement as early as on Oct. 20.

   Citing unidentified sources, the reports said the announcement could possibly be about the health condition of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il or an entry ban on foreigners amid Kim's prolonged absence from the public eye.

   Seoul officials have said they have detected nothing special in the North. The South Korean government checked any signs related to a stand-by order or an entry ban, such as strengthened border control or increased communication, but "There were no unusual signs seen yet," another ministry official said.

   The North Korean leader's health was also assumed to be recovering after he allegedly suffered a stroke, the official added.

   Kim's absence from recent state events, including a parade marking the 60th anniversary of the nation's founding in early September, has fanned speculation about his health and a possible power reshuffle in the communist country.

   Sources in China also cast doubt on Japanese reports, saying North Korean diplomats there were doing business as usual. Some North Korean Embassy staff in Beijing were still out of town after going on official trips, said a source well-versed on North Korean missions in the Chinese capital.


U.S. Confident on Fulfilling Energy Aid Obligations to N. Korea

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States expressed confidence on Oct. 21 that Japan and other countries involved in the multilateral nuclear talks will be able to meet their obligations to provide one million tons of fuel to North Korea.

   "I think there's a high degree of confidence among the five that we will meet our obligations," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said at a daily news briefing.

   McCormack was asked if the U.S. and other parties to the talks are seeking another country to replace Japan in the provision of 200,000 tons of heavy fuel oil to the North by the end of October in return for Pyongyang's disabling of its nuclear program.

   Japan has been reluctant to provide the energy unless the North addresses its alleged abduction of Japanese citizens decades ago to train North Korean agents in Japanese culture and language.

   North Korea returned five Japanese abductees in 2002, soon after an unprecedented summit between the leaders of the two countries, but Japan claims several more abductees are still alive in North Korea. The North says they are dead.

   Reports said Australia and the European Union might be willing to take Japan's position in the energy aid to save the six-party nuclear deal, which has endured a stop-start process for the past five years.

   In the most recent deadlock, North Korea stopped disabling its nuclear facilities for weeks up until a couple of weeks ago in defiance of Washington's failure to delist the North as a state sponsor of terrorism.

   Despite criticism of acquiescing to brinksmanship, Washington removed Pyongyang from its terrorism blacklist in early October while announcing the North agreed to allow access by international inspectors to its declared nuclear facilities and undeclared sites, though conditionally.

   McCormack said Russia will be the next to provide energy.

   "I think Russia's next up in the queue in terms of heavy fuel oil," he said. "And we are all as a group going to look for ways to continue to meet our obligations."

   Amid criticism that Japan is crippling the difficult negotiations with North Korea with the inclusion of the kidnapping issue, Tokyo said it was ready to fund the scrapping of North Korea's nuclear facilities in lieu of financing the energy aid.

   North Korea has periodically demanded Japan be ousted from the six-party talks, citing its efforts to include bilateral issues in the multilateral talks.


President Lee Says N. Korean Leader Kim Still in Control

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- President Lee Myung-bak denied the possibility of an imminent collapse of North Korea in a recent interview with French daily newspaper Le Figaro, saying North Korean society continues to operate normally under the control of its leader Kim Jong-il.

   According to the Korean transcript of the Le Figaro interview, released by the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae on Oct. 22, Lee also said he believes North Korea possesses the technological capabilities to produce nuclear bombs.

   "Various assumptions have surfaced regarding the health of Chairman Kim Jong-il. But I don't think North Korea would undergo any changes due to Chairman Kim's health problem," Lee was quoted as saying, referring to Kim by his official title as head of the North's National Defense Commission.

   "The world is preparing for various scenarios for the collapse of North Korea, but I don't think North Korean society will collapse that easily. I think North Korea is still being run under the control of Chairman Kim."

   South Korean and U.S. intelligence officials said the 66-year-old Kim underwent surgery after suffering a stroke in mid-August. But North Korean officials in Pyongyang have vehemently denied any media speculation about the leader's health problems.

   Asked during the interview, held at Cheong Wa Dae on Oct. 18, whether North Korea already has nuclear weapons, Lee said specific details of the North's nuclear weapons program should be thoroughly probed through the framework of the six-party denuclearization talks, which involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

   "North Korea has to make more faithful efforts to earn the confidence of the international community, as it is believed to possess technological capabilities to make nuclear bombs," said the president.