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2009/01/15 10:27 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 37 (January 15, 2009)

   *** TOPIC OF THE WEEK

N.K. Calls on U.S. to Normalize Relations before Denuclearization

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- In its first official message to the incoming U.S. administration under Barack Obama, North Korea urged Washington on Jan. 12 to normalize relations with Pyongyang as a precondition for its denuclearization, reaffirming its official stance in stalled nuclear negotiations.

   In a statement, the North's foreign ministry reiterated its committment to the principle of denuclearization through normalization of relations between the two countries. "Our aim to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula is, above all, to remove the U.S. nuclear threat to the DPRK (North Korea) that has lasted for the past half century," a spokesman for the ministry said.

   Referring to the Sept. 19 Joint Statement of 2005 reached during the six-party talks, the spokesman said, "We will never do such a thing as showing our nuclear weapons first even in 100 years unless the U.S. hostile policy and nuclear threat to the DPRK is fundamentally terminated."

   The spokesman insisted that the denuclearization agreement reached in 2005 between the six parties referred "not only to the northern half of the Korean Peninsula but the whole of it and, to this end, the U.S. committed itself to terminate its hostile relations with the DPRK, assure it of non-use of nuclear weapons and clear South Korea of nukes."

   The clear-cut statement comes ahead of the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama next week, who is expected to review U.S. policy on North Korea after eight years of largely frayed relations with Pyongyang.

   Obama said during his campaign that he would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il without preconditions, denouncing outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush for strong-arming the regime by refusing to talk. Bush began actively engaging the North only after it detonated its first nuclear device in October 2006. Speculation has been growing that Obama, who said Pyongyang's diplomatic isolation led to its development of up to eight nuclear warheads, may establish a diplomatic office in the North as a step toward normalizing ties.

   "It is a twisted logic to assert that the bilateral relations can be improved only when we show nukes before anything else," the North's spokesman said in the statement carried by Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency.

   In the statement, North Korea reiterated its call on the U.S. to withdraw its nuclear umbrella over South Korea. Since the Korean War, the U.S. military has shielded South Korea from a possible nuclear attack by the North and has held regular war games, including an air force drill underway this week. Pyongyang interprets the drills as a sign of U.S. nuclear aggression.

   "When the U.S. nuclear threat is removed and South Korea is cleared of its nuclear umbrella, we will also feel no need to keep nuclear weapons," the spokesman said.

   Seoul officials and analysts say the statement reflects Pyongyang's attempt to up the ante in future negotiations in expectation of gaining leverage over the incoming U.S. administration.

   Pyongyang has refrained in recent weeks from issuing its usual tirade of anti-U.S. rhetoric, an apparent sign that it hopes to start fresh with the new U.S. leader after often tense relations with the George W. Bush administration, which early on labeled the reclusive regime as part of an "axis of evil." In a joint New Year's editorial issued on Jan. 1, the North reaffirmed its pledge to denuclearize and said it would "develop relations with the countries friendly towards us."

   In a gesture of goodwill, 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, just days after Obama won the presidential election.

   Still, despite rumors Pyongyang would send an envoy to the U.S. during Obama's inauguration, a State Department official said on condition of anonymity that the U.S. has no such plan to invite North Korean delegates to the ceremony as it does not have diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.

   In Washington on Jan. 12, meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton said she would engage North Korea both bilaterally as well as through the six-party talks to address its alleged uranium-based nuclear program and nuclear proliferation.

   "It is a framework that the president-elect and I believe has merit," Clinton said of the six-party talks at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "But it also provides an opportunity, as Secretary (Condoleezza) Rice has testified before this committee, for bilateral contact as well between North Korea and the United States."

   The remarks by President-elect Barack Obama's choice for the top U.S. diplomatic post seemed to leave the door open for a meeting between Obama and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

   During the presidential campaign, Clinton described any such meeting that did not first lay down preconditions as "irresponsible and frankly naive." During the hearing, however, she seemingly reversed her position, echoing Obama's repeated assertions that "Smart power requires reaching out to both friends and adversaries, to bolster old alliances and to forge new ones."

   The former first lady said the goal of the six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the U.S, China, Japan and Russia should be "to end the North Korean nuclear program -- both the plutonium reprocessing program and the highly enriched uranium program, which there is reason to believe exists, although never quite verified."

   Clinton also discussed North Korea's suspected nuclear proliferation. "We have got to end North Korea as a proliferator," she said. "There is certainly reason to believe that North Korea has been involved with Syrian efforts," she added, pledging to "continue to work to prevent proliferation in North Korea and Iran; to secure loose nuclear weapons and materials and to shut down the market for selling them."

   Clinton said the incoming Obama administration will "use all the elements of our powers -- diplomacy, development and defense" to address nuclear proliferation and other security threats. "We will lead with diplomacy, because that's the smart approach," she said.

   North Korea has nearly completed disablement of its plutonium-producing reactor in Yongbyon under an aid-for-denuclearization deal signed with South Korea, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan in 2007. But the latest round of the six-way talks ended without progress in December due to a dispute over verification of the North's nuclear declaration.

  (END)