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2008/12/11 13:59 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 33 (December 11, 2008)


Kissinger Turns down Invitation to Visit Pyongyang: Chung Mong-joon

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger recently turned down an invitation from North Korea to visit Pyongyang, a senior South Korean lawmaker said on Dec. 4.

   Ri Gun, director general of the North American Affairs bureau at North Korea's foreign ministry, extended the invitation in early November at a seminar in New York, Rep. Chung Mong-joon of the ruling Grand National Party told South Korean correspondents in Washington.

   Kissinger in essence rejected the proposal by conditioning it on a pledge from North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons and to allow him to travel as an official presidential envoy, said Chung.

   Chung flew to Washington on the previous day with three other GNP lawmakers to meet with U.S. officials, congressmen and researchers on Washington's Korea policy prior to the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama next month.

   Reports said Obama may send a special envoy to North Korea soon after his inauguration on Jan. 20 to discuss ways to dismantle the North's nuclear arsenal.

   Among possible candidates are Kissinger, as well as Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell, who served respectively as secretary of state under the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.

   Obama has shown support for the ongoing six-party talks on ending the North's nuclear programs, but also said direct bilateral dialogue should complement the multilateral negotiations, which have been progressing sluggishly over the past five years.

   Obama has dismissed the criticism that it is naive to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il without preconditions, saying the Bush administration's reluctance to deal directly with North Korea resulted in the North's detonation of its first nuclear device in 2006.

   The South Korean lawmakers were told that Kissinger was invited by North Korea, Rep. Hong Jung-wook said, adding it was unclear in what capacity the visit would have been made.

   Hong said he got the impression from a number of U.S. scholars and congressmen he met over the past few days that the North Korean nuclear issue and other questions related to Korea are not on U.S. policymakers' list of top priorities.

   "They told us that it takes at least six months for the incoming Obama administration to set up its policy directions after the administration's inauguration," he said. "We expect issues on the Korean Peninsula to be on the agenda after that period."


WFP Says North Korea Faces 836,000 Ton Food Shortfall

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Millions of North Koreans will urgently need food aid in the coming months because of expected low crop yields this year, the World Food Program (WFP) said in a report released on Dec. 8.

   The report estimated the North's total agricultural production at 4.21 million tons for the 2008-2009 marketing year, leaving the impoverished country facing a cereal deficit of 836,000 tons, even with commercial imports.

   Around 40 percent of the country's population, or an estimated 8.7 million people -- mostly children, pregnant and nursing women and the elderly -- will urgently need food assistance in the coming months as a result, the WFP said after about two weeks of a food supply survey conducted in North Korea jointly by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

   Agricultural production is more than 3 million tons higher than the previous marketing year, when the North suffered massive flooding -- but it still shows a downward trend compared to the record harvest of 4.5 million tons in 2005.

   "The DPRK will face a severe food situation over the coming months," said Henri Josserand, chief of the FAO Global Information and Early Warning System. "Despite good weather and hard work by farmers and many city dwellers, they could not overcome critical shortages of fertilizer and fuel," he said. DPRK is the abbreviation for North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

   "The prospects for next year are bleak, with a substantial deficit of basic foods that will only partly be covered by commercial imports and anticipated food aid."
Torben Due, the WFP's Pyongyang office chief, said in a statement that the findings confirmed his organization's fears that millions of North Koreans will suffer another year of food shortages.

   "With such a large food gap, accessing enough food and a balanced diet will be almost impossible, particularly for families living in urban areas or in the remote food-deficit provinces in the Northeast. This could have grave consequences for the health of the most vulnerable groups," he said.

   The report is crucial for South Korea, as it has said it will decide how to respond to the WFP's latest appeal for food aid to North Korea mainly based on the outcome of the survey.

   North Korea has faced years of chronic food shortages and was hit by a severe famine in the mid-1990s that left some 2 million people -- or about one-tenth of the country's population -- dead, according to U.S. and other intelligence agencies.

   Once-generous international aid for the North has become sparse as the hard-line communist country has been dragging its feet on nuclear disarmament in negotiations with South Korea, the U.S. and other regional powers.

   The WFP, in its appeal made in early September, asked South Korea to contribute up to US$60 million for its campaign in North Korea, warning the country will slip back into famine unless it is given aid worth about $500 million in the next 15 months.

   South Korea has yet to respond to the appeal as its relations with Pyongyang have been strained since President Lee Myung-bak's conservative government was launched in February.

   North Korea did not request annual humanitarian aid shipments this year from South Korea, consisting of about 400,000 tons of rice and 300,000 tons of fertilizer, amid the strained ties. Lee's two liberal predecessors had provided the humanitarian aid for a decade.


Northeast Asia Needs to Build Regional Development Bank: Scholar

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A development bank should be established in Northeast Asia to induce and advance economic cooperation between impoverished North Korea and the other countries in the region, a South Korean scholar said on Dec. 8.

   "The long-delayed creation of an Northeast Asia development bank should be driven forward," said Lee Su-hoon, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies said at a forum hosted by Seoul's Yonsei University.

   His remarks came as a new round of six-party talks between the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia, aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear programs, was to begin in Beijing.

   "Economic aid would follow when steps towards the dismantlement of the North's nuclear weapons are fully implemented. In addition to what is agreed within the six-party talks in terms of the economic cooperation, the development bank in the region would be able to provide other forms of economic aid, ultimately providing an institutional tool for North Korea to naturally advance into the international community," Lee said.

   He said the regional bank could be an attractive project for the incumbent Lee Myung-bak administration, which has been emphasizing cooperation among South Korea, China and Japan against the current economic crisis through joint measures including currency cooperation.

   "I strongly believe that one of the hurdles East Asia faces in its efforts to achieve regional integration is North Korea," the scholar said. The North is geopolitically at the center of the region, and its isolation is disrupting integration, he said.

   "Momentum for regional integration can first be gained through East Asian currency cooperation," Lee said.


U.S. Defense Report Categorizes N. Korea As Nuclear Power

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- A U.S. defense report categorized North Korea as a nuclear power amid fears the North's nuclear armament could deepen tensions among regional rivals.

   "The rim of the great Asian continent is already home to five nuclear powers: China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Russia," said the report, titled "Joint Operating Environment (JOE) 2008: Challenges and Implications for the Future Joint Force."

   The outgoing Bush administration has not acknowledged North Korea as a nuclear weapons state amid ongoing multilateral talks on ending North Korea's atomic weapons development.

   North Korea detonated its first nuclear device in October 2006 and claimed the test was a success. Debate continues, however, among experts and policymakers over whether the detonation should in fact be seen as a success due to its low yield.

   "North Korea has tested a nuclear weapon and has produced sufficient fissile material to create more such weapons," said the report, which was revealed on Dec. 8. It was released on Nov. 25.

   President-elect Barack Obama made several statements while on the campaign trail that the North did indeed have up to eight nuclear weapons.

   U.S. and South Korean intelligence authorities have said the North has enough plutonium to produce several nuclear warheads, but have yet to officially confirm Pyongyang already possess a specific number.

   The report also categorized South Korea, Taiwan and Japan as three "threshold nuclear states," saying they "have the capability to develop nuclear weapons quickly, should their political leaders decide to do so."
"In effect, there is a growing arc of nuclear powers running from Israel in the west through an emerging Iran to Pakistan, India and on to China, North Korea and Russia in the east," the report said.

  "Unfortunately, that nuclear arc coincides with areas of considerable instability - regions that because of their economic power and energy resources are of enormous interest to the United States."

   On Dec. 9, the United States said it does not recognize North Korea as a nuclear weapons state, disavowing its own recent military assessment.

   "As a matter of policy, we do not recognize North Korea as a nuclear state," said Stewart Upton, spokesman for the Department of Defense.


U.S. Pans to Send Officials to N.K. to Secure Distribution Transparency

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The U.S. State Department said on Dec. 9 it plans to send a group of officials to North Korea to assure transparency in the distribution of food aid to North Korea as a prerequisite to implementing its pledge to send up to 500,000 tons of food.

   "So we're going to try to send some additional personnel to North Korea in an effort to make it work so that we can assure ourselves that we are fulfilling those dual responsibilities," spokesman Sean McCormack said.

   He was talking about the difficulty in both securing transparency in the food distribution and meeting the urgent humanitarian needs of the impoverished state. The U.S. wants the food to go to the truly needy rather than the power elite or black market.

   The U.S. in May pledged to provide up to 500,000 tons of food aid to the North, but has delivered about a quarter.

   The last shipment was made in August as North Korea halted the disablement of its nuclear facilities in defiance of Washington's failure to delist it as a state sponsor of terrorism.

   Once off the list, the North resumed disabling its facilities in October, but talks are still under way on how to verify what the North declared as its nuclear facilities in June as part of the multilateral aid-for-denuclearization agreement.

   "We have dual responsibilities here. We feel as though we have a responsibility to try to address the humanitarian issue, that is, hungry people in North Korea; put aside political differences that we have," McCormack said in a daily news briefing.

   "We also have a responsibility to be good stewards of the resources the American taxpayers are devoting to this issue, addressing this humanitarian crisis," he said. "The bottom line there is making sure that hungry people get the food that has been designated for them."

   The spokesman said nobody in his government "has an interest in using people who are hungry as bargaining chips.

   "That's not what we're doing. We have an ongoing -- again, it's an ongoing process of trying to make this work. And part of this, I think, involves more people," he said.

   The World Food Program announced on Dec. 8 that North Korea will need more than 800,000 tons in additional food aid from abroad to feed its 21 million people next year despite a comparatively good harvest this year.


U.S. Hints at Putting N.K. Back on Terror List over Stalled Nuke Talks

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States on Dec. 10 hinted at relisting North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism after the North balked at allowing samples to be taken from its nuclear facilities under the terms of a multilateral aid-for-denuclearization deal.

   State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told a daily news briefing that the action cannot be ruled out.

   "Look, I guess, I suppose, these things are always possible," McCormack said when asked if the U.S. is considering listing the North again. "You know, I don't know the ins and outs of the law. But I think it's based on behavior. And we'll see what behavior North Korea engages in."

   McCormack was referring to the latest round of the six-party talks, which ended with no agreement from the North to allow sampling at its Yongbyon nuclear complex as part of a nuclear verification protocol. The third and possibly last day of talks concluded Wednesday in Beijing.

   Kim Kye-gwan, the North's chief nuclear envoy, refused to guarantee the sampling in writing, citing what he called hostile U.S. policy toward North Korea.

   The U.S. delisted the North in October, saying Pyongyang agreed to the sampling during a visit by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill.

   North Korea's Kim, however, refuted the U.S. claim that the sides have a common understanding on the sampling issue. Kim's remarks buttressed the views of pessimists that the North, in its attempt to get energy aid in the on-and-off denuclearization process, has no intention of dealing further with the outgoing Bush administration.

   "We know what was agreed upon. We have it on paper," McCormack said. "We have a solid understanding of it. Other countries within the six-party talks share that understanding."

   The spokesman said his government will "go down another pathway" if the North fails to agree on the sampling, apparently referring to putting the North back on the terrorism list.

   North Korea remains one of the most heavily sanctioned nations in the world by the U.S. and international community.

   "So there's still a lot of leverage in place," McCormack said.

   "Part of that equation in making the assessment -- have they taken those steps, you know, have they made a final decision to denuclearize -- is a verification protocol and implementation of that verification protocol," the spokesman said.

   "I mean, the ultimate metric in judging that is the fact that they no longer have a nuclear program," he said. "You know, we're not near that stage at this point, but there are other important waypoints along the way. This verification protocol is one of them."