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2009/01/22 10:07 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 38 (January 22, 2009)

   *** NEWS IN BRIEF (Part 2)

N.K. May Retain Nuke Weapons after Normalized Ties with U.S.

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- In an apparent message to U.S. President Barack Obama, North Korea said on Jan. 17 before his inauguration that it may not give up its nuclear weapons even if Washington normalizes relations with it.

   "Normalization of diplomatic relations and the nuclear issue are entirely different issues," a spokesman for the North's foreign ministry said in a statement, declaring that Pyongyang will keep its nuclear capability until it feels safe from what it called the ever-present U.S. nuclear threat.

   "We can live without normalized relations with the United States but we can't live without nuclear deterrence. That is the reality of Korea today," he said.

   The statement confirmed North Korea's current policy but comes ahead of Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration. In a departure from the policy of current U.S. President George W. Bush, Obama has voiced the usefulness of direct dialogue with Pyongyang to resolve the nuclear issue.

   "Even if the DPRK (North Korea)-U.S. normalization of relations is achieved, our status as a nuclear weapons state will never founder as long as the U.S. nuclear threat remains even a bit," said the statement, carried by the state-run Korean News Agency monitored in Seoul.

   The North's comment comes amid a stalemate in six-nation talks aimed at ending it's nuclear weapons program. It also follows a U.S. statement earlier this week that calls on Pyongyang to move forward in the talks if it hopes to normalize its ties with the international community, including Washington.

   North Korea has confirmed its commitment to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula but has disagreed over how to verify a nuclear declaration it submitted in June last year.


North Korea Blasts Outgoing U.S. President

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea criticized outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush on Jan. 18 for trying to defend his policy errors in the final news conference of his presidency.

   Bush outlined some of his presidential "mistakes" and "disappointments" before reporters at the White House on Jan. 12. He cited not finding weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq as one of his disappointments. The assertion that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction was the main reason given by the U.S. for launching a war on the Middle East country.

   The former U.S. leader is "busy defending policy errors that he made," the Rodong Sinmun, newspaper of the Workers' Party, said in a commentary titled "Humiliating excuse by a big sinner."

   The commentary said Bush's claim that the war in Iraq is justified even while acknowledging the failure to find weapons of mass destruction is proof that he is still attached to the "unjust policy and anti-terrorism war."

   "We should watch and see how his fate will be after he leaves the office," the newspaper said.

   North Korea did not officially comment when Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, stepped down.

   Bush also said in the news conference he believes North Korea may have an enriched uranium program, while Iran is "still dangerous."


N. Korea Downplays Seoul's Efforts to Reopen Dialogue

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Jan. 18 played-down as "rhetoric" the South Korean Unification Ministry's plan to focus on resuming reconciliation talks with the socialist neighbor.

   Inter-Korean relations have deteriorated since conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office last year, vowing to take a firmer stance on Pyongyang than his liberal predecessors.

   Pyongyang has cut off all official dialogue with South Korea and drastically scaled back cross-border economic cooperation programs in protest of what it calls Seoul's confrontational policy.

   Rodong Sinmun, the organ of Pyongyang's Workers' Party, belittled the Seoul ministry's expressed desire to hold dialogue and increase cooperation.

   The ministry's report fell short of mentioning any intent to carry out agreements signed in the historic inter-Korean summits of 2000 and 2007, the newspaper pointed out in its commentary, carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

   Pyongyang has asked Seoul to pledge to fulfill the accords and scrap its hard-line policy towards the North as a precondition for coming back to the discussion table. The South Korean government has refused to carry out several cross-border economic cooperation programs set forth in the agreements as they would require huge investments into the nuclear-armed state.

   The four major goals set by Seoul's Unification Ministry last December were resuming stalled dialogue between the two governments and suspended economic assistance programs; bringing home South Koreans believed to have been abducted by the North and promoting of Seoul's trademark policy of "mutual benefits and common prosperity."


North Korea Ready to Work with Obama: Choson Sinbo

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is ready to work with new U.S. President Barack Obama, regardless of what choice he makes to remove the North's nuclear programs, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper in Japan said on Jan. 20.

   "It is too early to predict whether Obama would opt to acknowledge North Korea's possession of nuclear weapons or attain the goal of denuclearization in a package deal including the normalization of ties with Pyongyang," Choson Sinbo said.

   "What is certain is that the North is ready to respond to any choice that the enemy state makes while it watches the launch of the new administration," the newspaper that usually represents Pyongyang's position said in an article posted on its Web site a few hours before Obama officially took office that day.

   North Korea pledged to dismantle its nuclear programs in exchange for economic and political incentives pledged under a six-party deal signed in 2005. But the process is stalled over how to verify Pyongyang's nuclear declaration.

   The newspaper of the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan indicated that the North wants to tackle all problems related to the country in a package deal, repeating Pyongyang's assertion that verification is supposed to be done in the final stage of denuclearization.

   The latest six-party talks involving the U.S., the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia ended without agreement in early December, with Pyongyang refusing to accept a "scientific" verification protocol, including allowing outside inspectors to take samples from its main nuclear complex.


N. Korean Media Promptly Reports Barack Obama's Inauguration

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's state-run news agency on Jan. 21 promptly reported U.S. President Barack Obama's inauguration less than one day after the new president was sworn in.

   The timing of the report by the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) was relatively sudden when compared to past reports of U.S. presidential inaugurations.

   The brief statement said Obama's inauguration ceremony was held at the U.S. Capitol Building and that he made an inaugural address, without going into further details.

   When George W. Bush was sworn into office in 2001, the socialist country reported the event three days later. It did not report his reelection.

   KCNA also neglected to report Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993, only mentioning the need for change in U.S. policy toward North Korea the day after he became president.


Senior Chinese Official Visiting North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A senior Chinese official, Wang Jiarui, is visiting North Korea, Pyongyang's media said on Jan. 21, in a closely watched trip coinciding with the inauguration of the new U.S. administration.

   "A delegation from the international liaison department of the central committee of China's Communist Party, headed by department chief Wang Jiarui, arrived in Pyongyang on Jan. 21," the North's state-run Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station and other state-run media said in a short statement, without elaborating on the schedule or purpose of his rare visit.

   Wang's arrival comes at a very sensitive time in North Korea. Pyongyang has been waiting for the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama as an opportunity to start anew with Washington and push forward a stalled aid-for-denuclearization deal.

   The North's official Korean Central News Agency quickly announced Obama's inauguration on Jan. 21 evening, less than 24 hours after the ceremony.

   In his swearing-in ceremony, the new U.S. president vowed to "work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat" with allies and foes. Obama had said during his election campaign that he is willing to meet the North Korean leader to help terminate the North's nuclear weapons program.

   Wang's visit also raises the possibility North Korean leader Kim Jong-il may appear to greet a foreign guest for the first time since he reportedly suffered a stroke last summer.

   Wang has met the North's reclusive leader on all his recent visits, which usually coincided with important events in North Korea. They met in January 2004, shortly before Kim's visit to China, and again in February 2005, shortly after North Korea declared its possession of nuclear weapons. Wang's latest trip was in January 2008.

   Meanwhile, North Korea's Workers' Party held a reception for Wang, the North's Korean Central News Agency said on the same day.