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2008/12/18 11:25 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 34 (December 18, 2008)


S. Korea, China, Japan Agree on Regional Stability, Prosperity, Peace

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The leaders of South Korea, Japan and China agreed on Dec. 13 to reinforce a tripartite partnership for "regional stability, prosperity and peace," while expressing regrets at North Korea's recent refusal to agree to verification measures for its nuclear program.

   South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao made the agreement at a tripartite summit held in the Japanese city of Fukuoka.

   The three leaders agreed to strengthen policy cooperation between their countries for the denuclearization of North Korea after expressing regrets at the North's 'uncooperative attitude' shown at the latest round of six-party talks in Beijing, according to a joint statement after the summit.

   The meeting marked the first three-way summit held separately from multilateral international forums. The three countries have met annually on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Plus Three summit.

   During the unprecedented summit, South Korean President Lee called for closer tripartite cooperation in persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear program through the six-party talks, saying the North's nuclear problem will eventually be resolved, though it may take longer than expected.

   The three leaders also agreed to widen cooperation in promoting free trade, fiscal expansion and currency swaps to weather the global economic crisis at an unprecedented trilateral summit, South Korea's presidential office said.

   "It was a historic meeting, as leaders of South Korea, Japan and China got together at one place within the region for the first time," Lee said in a joint press conference after the summit. "I found through this summit talks that the three countries share common visions. All problems can be resolved through dialogue. Closer cooperation among the three will enhance the development of the entire world, as well as of the region."

   Aso and Wen also attached special meaning to the first tripartite summit in their separate remarks at the press conference at the Kyushu National Museum in downtown Fukuoka.

   Ahead of the tripartite summit, Lee met separately with Aso and Wen.

   In their bilateral meeting, the South Korean and Chinese leaders agreed to closely cooperate in forcing North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.

   The two leaders also expressed regret at the latest round of the six-party talks that broke down in Beijing on Dec. 11 in a dispute over verification measures for the North's nuclear declaration.

   "Lee explained the latest circumstances on the Korean Peninsula, while Wen stressed the two Koreas should attempt to improve relations through dialogue and negotiations. The Chinese leader then offered continued support for better inter-Korean relations," said South Korea's presidential office.

   "Lee, Aso and Wen, while taking note of the importance of frequent dialogue among their countries, agreed to regularly hold the tripartite summit meeting," said a joint statement issued earlier after the summit.

   "The three leaders agreed to strengthen policy cooperation between their countries for the denuclearization of North Korea after expressing regrets at the North's 'uncooperative attitude' shown at the just-concluded six-party talks."


N.K. Threatens to Slow Nuclear Disablement Work If Energy Aid Suspended

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea threatened on Dec. 13 to slow down the ongoing process of disabling its main nuclear facility if promised energy aid is halted, Japan's Kyodo News quoted the socialist country's nuclear envoy as saying.

   After the latest round of six-party nuclear disarmament talks collapsed in Beijing on Dec. 11, the United States said it will halt fuel oil shipments to North Korea promised under a 2007 aid-for-denuclearization deal.

   The North's chief nuclear envoy, Kim Kye-gwan, said his country will be forced to respond by slowing down disablement of its Yongbyon nuclear complex.

   "For us, it is all right whether they are stopped or given," Kyodo quoted Kim as telling reporters before leaving Beijing's international airport for home. "If they are not provided, we will adjust the speed of disablement."

   On Dec. 12, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said energy aid will not go forward until ways to verify Pyongyang's nuclear programs are put in place.


French Doctor Denies Treating N. Korean Leader: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A French doctor has denied a newspaper report that he treated North Korean leader Kim Jong-il or that he has any information about Kim's health, a report said on Dec. 15.

   French newspaper Le Figaro quoted the neurosurgeon Francois-Xavier Roux as saying last week that Kim did in fact suffer a stroke but did not undergo surgery as was widely suspected, and that he is now in better condition.

   Roux, who reportedly visited Pyongyang at the end of October, was also quoted as saying that the photos of Kim that have been released by the North seem recent and authentic to him.

   "I did not see their leader and I don't have any information about the leader," Roux told the Associated Press on Dec. 14, adding that he had been misquoted by the French daily.

   Roux, of Saint-Anne hospital in Paris, said he traveled to Pyongyang in April with several colleagues to teach the latest spinal surgery techniques. He said he made a one-day follow-up visit in late October to draw up a list of materials needed for a local neurosurgery unit.

   "Like many other French, German or other doctors, I have been to Korea several times," AP quoted him as saying. "It was never to see their leader," he said.

   South Korean and U.S. intelligence officials have said the 66-year-old Kim is recovering after undergoing brain surgery. North Korea has vehemently denied reports of Kim's illness and released photos of him through state media inspecting military units and factories, as well as attending a sporting event, apparently to show he is active and remains in control of the state.


Gates Sys N. Korea Built Several Nuclear Bombs

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says North Korea has built several nuclear bombs even as controversy swirls over a U.S. military report describing the North as a nuclear weapons state.

   Gates made the remarks in a contribution to the January/February 2009 edition of "Foreign Affairs" just days after the Pentagon and the U.S. State Department rebutted a recent report from the U.S. Joint Forces Command that depicted North Korea as one of five Asian nuclear powers, along with China, India, Pakistan and Russia.

   In describing security challenges facing the U.S. in an article titled "Reprogramming the Pentagon for a New Age," the secretary said, "There is the potentially toxic mix of rogue nations, terrorist groups, and nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. North Korea has built several bombs, and Iran seeks to join the nuclear club."

   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 was a dud.

   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 possesses a specific number.


N. Korea to Remove Inactive Companies from Rajin-Sonbong Zone

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is preparing to remove inoperative foreign companies from a special economic zone in the country's northeast, officials said after a report that some Chinese firms in the area were asked to leave.

   "North Korea appears to have conducted a survey in October to sort out companies that exist only on paper from the Rajin-Sonbong economic zone," Kim Ho-nyoun, spokesman for the Unification Ministry in Seoul, told reporters on Dec. 16.

   He was responding to a request to confirm a recent report by a local daily, the Dong-a Ilbo, that Pyongyang has asked an unspecified number of Chinese firms there to evacuate by the end of November. The firms did not comply with the request since it was not mandatory. About 250 Chinese firms are on the registry, according to the daily.

   The zone was created in 1991 in the area bordering Russia to attract foreign investment, but Seoul officials say it has largely failed to achieve that goal.

   The report came after North Korea reduced to half the number of South Korean officials and managers in another industrial enclave at Kaesong, just north of the heavily armed inter-Korean border early this month.

   North Korea has said the cutback is part of initial retaliatory measures against Seoul's tough stance toward Pyongyang and indicated it may shut down the Kaesong complex without a policy shift by the South.