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2009/01/08 10:47 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 36 (January 8, 2008)

   *** FOREIGN TIPS

Kim Jong-il in Power, Everything Normal in N.K.; Seoul's Minister

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is in firm control of the socialist country and everything is normal there despite rumors about his health, South Korea's unification minister said on Dec. 29.

   Kim appeared in public more in December than he has before -- 13 times, nearly twice as many monthly visits as in 2007 -- according to ministry data.

   "Considering such circumstances, I think the North Korean leadership is stable," Kim Ha-joong, Seoul's chief policymaker on Pyongyang, told reporters.

   The minister's remark was a rare official comment from Seoul over Kim's recent leadership. The reclusive leader went unseen for more than 50 days from mid-August, prompting speculation he may be too ill to govern.

   Seoul and Washington officials say Kim had a stroke but is now recovering. Kim resumed inspection tours in early October.

   "We should conclude that everything is normal," the minister said. But he also admitted that "the year-end concentration seems a bit unique."

   North Korea reported 97 inspection tours by Kim as of Dec. 29, compared to 87 in 2007, the ministry said. This year's visits were concentrated in the first and last months of the year.

   The minister remained optimistic on the inter-Korean relations, which dipped to a record low during President Lee Myung-bak's first year in office.

   "In the new year, when time comes, North Korea will understand our sincerity and come forward for talks," he said.

   "Experts say the North Korean military is spearheading the hard-line stance, while another opinion, though not the mainstream, is that the military is not involved in foreign relations. We listen to all of them," he said.

  
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U.S. Not Inviting N. Korean Official in January: U.S. Official

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States does not have any plan to invite North Korean officials to coincide with the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama on Jan. 20, a State Department official said on Dec. 29.

   "We have no current plan for Kim Kye-gwan to visit the United States in January," the official said, asking for anonymity.

   The official was denying the allegations that the chief North Korean nuclear envoy or another North Korean official will visit Washington or New York on the occasion of Obama's inauguration to discuss six-party talks on ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions and other issues of bilateral concern.

   North Korea does not have diplomatic ties with the U.S., so it is almost impossible for a North Korean official to attend the inauguration, another official said.

   The Obama transition team, meanwhile, has no plans to invite foreign delegations from any other countries to the inaugural ceremony with their ambassadors representing their governments at the ceremony, the official said.

   Talks, however, abounded that Kim will fly to New York to meet with officials of the Obama administration on and around Jan. 20 on the margins of an academic seminar just as Ri Gun, director general of the North American affairs bureau of North Korea's foreign ministry, visited New York on the day of Obama's election in early November.

   In either case, any North Korean official should get permission from the U.S. State Department before flying into the U.S.

   Ri Gun, director general of the North American affairs bureau of North Korea's Foreign Ministry, met with Frank Jannuzi, a key foreign policy adviser to Obama, in New York in early November, saying "We are ready to respond to any U.S. administration whatever its North Korea policy may be. We've handled many U.S. administrations, some seeking dialogue with us and others trying to isolate and oppress us."

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U.S. Food Aid Soon to Arrive in N. Korea Despite Visa Problem

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The latest batch of humanitarian food aid will arrive in North Korea in late December despite friction over the issuance of visas for Korean speaking U.S. staff monitoring food distribution, the State Department said on Dec. 29.

   "The latest shipment of food aid totaling 21,000 metric tons, which was expected to arrive by the end of December, is now expected to arrive in the DPRK (North Korea) on January 2, due to recent rough seas," the department said in a statement.

   "The United States has not stopped food aid to North Korea," the statement said.

   The U.S. committed in May to sending 500,000 tons of humanitarian food aid to the impoverished North Korea, and has shipped 143,000 tons so far this year despite glitches in multilateral talks on ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.

   The statement, however, said that problems still exist in the process for delivery of the food aid.

   "The lack of sufficient Korean speakers on the WFP program is one of the key issues in ongoing discussions," it said. "The issuance of visas for Korean-speaking monitors for the WFP program is another issue currently being discussed, along with other technical issues."

   The statement also noted "other problems in the implementation of the world food program portion of the food aid program," without elaborating. "Those problems are not yet resolved," it said.

   Earlier in the day, deputy spokesman Gordon K. Duguid said, "Those people we have identified have not yet received their visas to enter North Korea. I don't know as of today whether they have or not. We are in a process, but we have not stopped the shipment."

   The spokesman reiterated that the U.S. government needs to assure transparency in the distribution of the food aid amid allegations that much of the food aid might have been funneled to the military and the power elite. Millions are said to be suffering from food shortages in the North due to chronic floods and failed policies.

   A U.S. fact-finding mission recently concluded a North Korean tour on assuring transparency in distribution of the food aid to non-government organizations.

  
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White House Urges N. Korea to Return to Six-party Talks

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The Bush administration on Jan. 2 urged North Korea to return to multilateral talks on ending its nuclear weapons ambitions with less than three weeks remaining in Bush's term.

   "We want to see North Korea get back on the right track," Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the National Security Council, said in a daily press briefing. "We think the six-party process has worked well."
Johndroe's remarks follow a commitment made by North Korea a day earlier that it will denuclearize itself.

   "The independent foreign policy of our Republic to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and defend the peace and security of Northeast Asia and the rest of the world is demonstrating its validity more fully as the days go by," North Korea said in a New Year's message on Jan. 1.

   The message skipped the North's usual accusations of the U.S. over its hostile North Korea policy and deployment of U.S. troops in South Korea, fueling speculation that Pyongyang is awaiting the Barack Obama administration for continuation of the six-party talks.

   The latest round of the talks ended without an agreement on verification of North Korea's nuclear facilities, due mainly to North Korea's refusal to allow the collection of samples from its main nuclear reactor.

   North Korea has said it will agree to the sampling later, possibly in the third and last phase of a multilateral deal signed by the six parties that include the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia. That phase is the dismantlement of its nuclear programs and facilities.

   The five other parties insist that the sampling should be part of the disablement of the North's nuclear facilities, the second phase of the deal, under which Pyongyang is supposed to get 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil.

   North Korea did agree to visits by international inspectors to its declared nuclear sites, as well as to interviews with its scientists and viewing of related documents.

   "The whole six-party process is based on action for action, and if the North Koreans would take steps to allow a good verification protocol to take place, then the United States, China, Russia and Japan and South Korea would be prepared to fulfill their obligations, their actions in the agreement," Johndroe said.

   On her last trip to China as secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice will fly to Beijing soon to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the restoration of bilateral ties.

   While in Beijing, she will also discuss ways to persuade North Korea to agree to a verification regime, officials said.

  
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Flow of North Korean Defectors Slows in 2008

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- About 2,800 North Korean defectors entered South Korea in 2008, the Unification Ministry said on Jan. 5, reflecting a slowdown that was partly caused by tightened border controls in China.

   A total of 2,809 defectors settled in the South the past year, up 10 percent from a year earlier. The increase was 26 percent and 46 percent in 2007 and 2006, respectively, according to ministry data.

   China tightened control of its border with North Korea in and around the Summer Olympics, prompting a sharp drop in the number of the North Koreans successively making it out of the country in the latter half of the year.

   Beijing sees North Korean defectors as illegal migrants who enter the country for food or smuggling trade and says it is bound by official policy to send them back to the North.

   "The slowdown was possibly affected by China's domestic and foreign policy among many other reasons," a Unification Ministry official said, requesting anonymity.

   During the first half of 2008, about 1,700 North Korean defectors entered the South, up 42 percent from the same period the year earlier. The number fell to around 1,100 during the second half.

   A total of 15,057 North Korean defectors have arrived in the South since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, a large number of which came starting in the late 1990s, according to ministry data.

   In 1993, a total of 34 North Korean defectors settled in South Korea. The figure shot up to 306 in 1998. In 2006, a total of 2,018 North Korean defectors arrived, with 2,544 in 2007.

   Seoul's Lee Myung-bak government has sought to tackle North Korea's human rights issues more directly and bring in more defectors.

  
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N.K. Sacks Pointman on S. Korea for Misjudging Seoul Government

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has dismissed its pointman on South Korea for misjudging Seoul's conservative administration, government sources said on Jan. 5.

   Choe Sung-chol, vice chairman of the Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, a North Korean state organization handling inter-Korean affairs under the Workers' Party, was dismissed in early 2008. It is not yet clear who has succeeded him, the sources said, requesting anonymity.

   Seoul's Unification Ministry acknowledged Choe's reported dismissal but could not confirm it.

   "I've heard it many times. But to be able to officially confirm it, I would have to have the facts," the ministry spokesman, Kim Ho-nyoun, told reporters.

   North Korea reportedly conducted the reshuffle as inter-Korean relations began to slide towards a stalemate. The communist state blamed Choe for not accurately assessing South Korea's Lee Myung-bak government, according to the sources.

   Pyongyang had suspended its usual anti-South Korea rhetoric until March in 2008, apparently waiting for Lee to implement summit agreements reached between his liberal predecessors -- Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun -- and North Korean leader Kim jong-il.

   Contrary to those expectations, Lee pushed aside the summit agreements -- mostly costly projects to modernize North Korea's economy -- and instead took a hardline stance towards Pyongyang. He demanded that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons program and improve its human rights conditions.

   In April, North Korea launched an acerbic media offensive against Seoul, calling Lee "a traitor" and "a pro-U.S. sycophant." Pyongyang also cut off inter-Korean dialogue.

   Choe, the reportedly dismissed official, is known to have played a central role in arranging the second inter-Korean summit in 2007. Some suspect his absence from the Workers' Party will give the hardline military unchecked authority in dealing with Seoul.

   A major South Korean newspaper, the JoongAng Ilbo, said Choe was succeeded by Yu Yong-son, head of the Buddhists Federation of North Korea.

   A member of a South Korean Buddhist organization that met with its North Korean counterpart in September and October told Yonhap News Agency that Yu was not present at those meetings, a possible sign that he had been moved to Choe's position.

   Yu attended the 2007 inter-Korean summit as the head of the North Korean delegation over religious exchanges.

  
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N. Korean Envoy Payed Key Role in Drawing Egyptian Investment

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The recent launch of North Korean mobile service by Egypt's Orascom Telecom -- the biggest foreign investor yet in the socialist state -- came under the baton of the North Korean ambassador to Switzerland, a source said on Jan. 6.

   Ri Chol, who is also known as the manager of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's secret funds abroad, played the middleman in Orascom's deal with Pyongyang in December to invest US$400 million over the next three years, the source well-versed in North Korean affairs said on condition of anonymity.

   Orascom started the third generation mobile phone network on Dec. 15, with its chief executive, Naguib Sawiris, vowing to develop and open up the isolated country. The giant Arab firm also opened a joint bank with North Korea the same month.

   Orascom's money also made it possible for North Korea to resume construction of the 105-story Ryukyong Hotel, which stood unfinished in downtown Pyongyang for more than 15 years. Its construction started in 1987 with French money and technology but halted in 1992 due to a lack of capital.

   "Orascom's investments in North Korea came as the result of Ambassador Ri Chol's direct dealings with Orascom," the source said.

   Under Ri's guidance, the entire North Korean embassy in Geneva pushed through the major foreign investment project, the source said.

   "I don't know how he convinced Orascom, but given that it is the largest-ever foreign investment to be made in North Korea, the case became a model for the North Korean authorities, who have been trying to draw foreign capital to break the country's economic impasse," the source said.

   Ri served in Geneva since the 1980s. He is considered one of the closest confidants to the North Korean leader, taking care of sensitive personal matters, such as his secret funds overseas and his tightly-veiled family.

  (END)