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2009/08/20 10:36 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 68 (August 20, 2009)


U.S. Has Only 3 Years for Nuke Talks with N. Korea: Gregg

JEJU ISLAND, South Korea, (Yonhap) -- The United States has only three years left to negotiate the "verifiable dismantlement" of North Korea's nuclear arsenal, a former U.S. diplomat privy to North Korean affairs said on Aug. 12, citing the socialist nation's overt goal of becoming a "strong and prosperous" country by 2012.

   The year 2012 is highly symbolic for North Koreans as it marks the centennial anniversary of late national founder Kim Il-sung's birth. Many analysts agree that recent activity in the North, including a second nuclear test, are in line with the 2012 timetable.

   Donald Gregg, who served as national security advisor to George H.W. Bush, said the Bush administration wasted six years before seeking dialogue with the North. He notes Pyongyang, by that point, "never had full confidence in dialogue" owing to the hawkish stance of neoconservatives such as Dick Cheney and John Bolton.

   Gregg said the Obama government should not repeat such a mistake.

   "My suggestion would be that during the next three years before the 100th anniversary of Kim Il-sung's birth we have perhaps the last opportunity to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons," he told reporters during a break at the fifth Jeju Peace Forum.

   "For that to happen it is going to take a sustained and sincere dialogue between U.S. and Pyongyang, in conjunction with Pyongyang's return to the six-party talks." Gregg also served as the U.S. ambassador to Seoul from 1989-1993.

   He said that at some point Washington has to be ready for higher-level dialogue with the North, taking lessons from William Perry's success in suspending its missile activity in the late 1990s and Bill Clinton's recent trip there which led to the release of two American journalists.

   He dismissed media speculation that the Obama administration's policy on the North has shifted to "containment."

   "The objective is very clear. We want to have a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. The desire for a verifiably nuclear-free Korean Peninsula is a goal we share very fully with South Korea," he said.


N. Korea Seen as Biggest Security Threat to U.S.: Survey

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea is seen as the biggest security threat to the United States, a U.S. pollster said on Aug. 12.

   "Seventy-five percent of Americans describe North Korea as an enemy of the United States," while Iran is seen an enemy by 70 percent of respondents, Rasmussen Reports, an electronic public opinion pollster, said after releasing the outcome of the survey of 1,000 Americans conducted between Aug. 6 and 9.

   "Both are developing nuclear weapons and refuse to listen to the United Nations and other international mediators who are trying to talk them out of it," the report said. "They are also the nations that sizable majorities of Americans consider to be the biggest enemies of the United States."


N. Korea Ready to Talk with the U.S.: Vice Foreign Minister

Seoul (Yonhap) -- North Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Kim Yong-il on Aug. 14 said his country is ready to talk with the U.S. as it has concentrated efforts on making a breakthrough in relations with the U.S.

   Kim's remark came in a press conference during a visit to Hanoi, Vietnam, to attend the North Korea-Vietnam policy conference last week.

   Asked about the possibility of dialogue with the U.S., Kim said, "We are always ready to negotiate with the U.S."

   The response from such a high-ranking official was a rare moment of openness on what is a very sensitive issue, though the country has expressed its willingness to negotiate with the U.S. through its official media.

   North Korea released two detained American journalists in early August when former U.S. President Clinton visited Pyongyang, hinting at a possible warming of ties with the U.S.


Chinese Envoy Due in Pyongyang for Resumption of Nuclear Talks

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- China's top nuclear negotiator is expected to head to North Korea on Aug. 17 as part of Beijing's efforts to restart six-way talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program, a diplomatic source said.

   "Chances are high that Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei will fly into Pyongyang on a Air China flight that departs (Beijing) at 5:20 p.m.," the source said.

   His trip is aimed at tempting North Koreans to reverse their months-long refusal to join the six-party talks also involving South Korea, the U.S., Russia and Japan, added the source.

   Neither the Chinese nor North Korean authorities have announced Wu's trip plan yet. North Korea watchers say the two sides are likely to stay silent on Wu's trip until it ends, in line with their diplomatic practices.

   South Korean government officials refused to confirm Wu's schedule.

   China, chair of the nuclear talks and the closest ally of the North, has come under heavy pressure to broker a breakthrough in the deadlocked denuclearization process.

   Wu's trip, if made, comes amid growing speculation that North Korea may be finally trying to break its diplomatic isolation that has deepened since its long-range rocket launch in May and a second nuclear test the following month.

   North Korean leader Kim Jong-il met former U.S. President Bill Clinton in Pyongyang early this month and accepted Washington's request for amnesty for two American reporters who had been detained there since March.

   North Korea also freed a South Korean worker at the inter-Korean industrial park in Kaesong last week after months of captivity.


Obama Debriefs Clinton on Meeting with Kim Jong-il: White House

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Barack Obama on Aug. 18 debriefed former President Bill Clinton on the latter's recent trip to North Korea to win the release of two American journalists, the White House said.

   "Former President Clinton described the process, including a meeting with Kim Jong-il, that culminated in the North Korean leadership granting special amnesty to the two journalists and permitting them to return to the United States," spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement.

   Gibbs did not elaborate on the substance of Clinton's discussions with the North Korean leader on a possible rapprochement between the sides. The North's recent nuclear and missile tests invited international sanctions on the reclusive socialist state.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, however, said what her husband and those who traveled with him "have provided to us is extremely helpful because it gives us a window into what's going on in North Korea." She is the wife of the former president.

   Secretary Clinton also reiterated Washington's demand that North Korea return to six-party talks on ending its nuclear programs, dismissing Pyongyang's call on Washington to engage the North bilaterally instead of through the six-party forum.

   "Our policy remains the same. Our policy is consistent. We continue to offer to the North Koreans the opportunity to have a dialogue within the six-party-talk framework with the United States that we think could offer many benefits to the people of North Korea," she told reporters in a joint press availability. "But the choice is up to the North Koreans. They know that we are committed to the goal of full and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

   Earlier in the day, Gibbs described the debriefing as "a crucial opportunity to speak directly with and get the first-hand and direct impressions of former President Clinton about what he heard and what he saw and where we go from here."

   While in Pyongyang earlier this month, Clinton met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il for more than three hours to discuss the journalists' release and a variety of other issues involving the two countries in a rare, lengthy public appearance by the ailing communist leader.

   In another conciliatory gesture, Kim Jong-il gave a rare audience Sunday to Hyun Jung-eun, chairwoman of South Korea's Hyundai Group, which has invested heavily in North Korea, to allow the resumption of inter-Korean tour projects and operations at the joint industrial park in Kaesong, located just north of the inter-Korean border.

   Since returning home earlier this month with the two journalists, Clinton gave briefings to senior White House officials, but has spoken to Obama only briefly over the phone.


Inter-Korean Trade Falls for 11th Month in July

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Inter-Korean trade declined for an 11th month in July amid heightened tensions between Seoul and Pyongyang in the wake of the communist country's nuclear test, data showed on Aug. 19.

   According to the data by the Korea Customs Service, trade between South and North Korea amounted to around US$140 million in July, down 22 percent from the same month a year earlier. This marked an 11th straight month of annual contraction since September last year.

   Exports to the North totaled $64.72 million, while imports from the country came to $75.26 million, the data showed. In particular, imports from the North were mostly textiles and fishery products.

   The trade decline is attributed mostly to strained inter-Korean relations and heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula after the North pushed ahead with its second nuclear test in May in defiance of warnings by the international community.

   The U.N. Security Council (UNSC) adopted resolutions imposing sanctions after North Korea conducted long-range missile tests in April and its second nuclear test in May. The resolutions call for financial sanctions and an overall arms embargo, and allows member countries to inspect North Korean ships suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction or related materials.

   Experts, however, hope that trade will rebound in months to come as the mood is expected to improve after a recent agreement between Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to resume joint ventures between the two Koreas.