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2009/09/17 11:13 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 72 (September 17, 2009)


North Korea Appears to Have 10 Nuclear Warheads: Report

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea appears to have 10 nuclear weapons, although it is not clear if all are ready for military use, a report said on Sept. 10.

   The World Nuclear Stockpile Report, by Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists and Robert Norris of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the North Korean warheads are part of 23,375 nuclear weapons being held by nine nuclear weapons states.

   The report, written with the support of Ploughshares Fund, which provides grants for projects promoting security and peace, also said, "There is no publicly available evidence that North Korea has operationalized its nuclear weapons capability."

   North Korea conducted its second nuclear test in May after one in 2006 and U.S. and South Korean intelligence authorities have talked about several nuclear weapons being held by the North, without citing a number.

   Efforts toward North Korea's nuclear dismantlement hit a snag as Pyongyang has boycotted the six-nation nuclear talks, citing international sanctions for its nuclear blast and missile tests earlier this year.

   Pyongyang is seeking bilateral talks with Washington for a breakthrough, while the U.S. insists on having a one-on-one dialogue only within the six-party framework.

   Reports said that Stephen Bosworth, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, may fly to Pyongyang in the coming weeks to facilitate resumption of the nuclear negotiations.

   In the arsenal report, which is "based on publicly available information and occasional leaks," Russia tops the list of nuclear warheads possession with 13,000, followed by the U.S. with 9,400.

   Of the total Russian inventory, 4,837 nuclear weapons are operational, and the comparable number for the U.S. is 2,700.

   "Of the more than 23,300 in the best expert estimates, more than 8,190 warheads are considered operational, of which approximately 2,200 U.S. and Russian warheads are on high alert, ready for use on short notice," the report said.

   It expressed concerns over ever-rising numbers in the global nuclear arsenal.

   "The exact number of nuclear weapons in global arsenals is not known; each country guards these numbers as closely held national secrets," the report said. "What is known, however, is that more than a decade and a half after the Cold War ended, the world's combined stockpile of nuclear warheads remains at unacceptably high levels."

   On the nuclear stockpile list, France came in third with 300 nuclear warheads, China fourth with 240 and Britain fifth with 185. Israel has 80 nuclear weapons, Pakistan between 70 to 90 and India 60 to 80, the report said.


Nominal N. Korean Leader's Denial of Succession a 'Smokescreen'

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A leading expert in Seoul on Sept. 11 refuted recent remarks by North Korea's nominal No. 2 leader denying that any succession process is underway in Pyongyang, saying it would be "naive" to believe such public statements.

   In an interview with Japan's Kyodo News in Pyongyang on Sept. 10, Kim Yong-nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, declared as "groundless" foreign media reports that top leader Kim Jong-il has chosen his third and youngest son, Kim Jong-un, as his successor.

   "We haven't even had discussion on such an issue in our country," he was quoted by Kyodo as saying.

   Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst with the non-governmental Sejong Institute in South Korea who has long followed internal shifts in the North's power structure, said Kim Yong-nam's remarks should be seen as a "smokescreen" to muzzle external speculation.

   "President Kim Yong-nam is certainly one of North Korea's power elite, but it is still a naive approach to take his word as being true," he said.

   Cheong noted previous remarks by the nominal leader in an interview with Kyodo on Sept. 10 last year, a day after celebrations marking North Korea's 60th founding anniversary. Kim Jong-il's absence during the event spurred rumors about his possible health problems.

   Asked about the leader's health condition at the time, Kim Yong-nam said he had no problem.

   In another interview around the same time, Song Il-ho, North Korea's ambassador in negotiations with Japan over normalizing the two country's relations, dismissed foreign reports about the leader's failing health as "worthless" and as a "conspiracy plot."

   South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities later said Kim Jong-il, 67, appeared to have suffered a stroke in August 2008.

   "We have to keep in mind that North Korea -- and it isn't just North Korea -- often tells a story different from the truth or puts up a smokescreen when it comes to an issue that it doesn't want to openly discuss," Cheong said.

   In the Sept. 10 interview, Kim Yong-nam asserted that Kim Jong-il has no health problems and that he leads the country "with an abundance of energy."

   "We think that a part of the foreign media run (such reports) in an attempt to stifle our rise and prosperity," he said. "Currently, our people are in firm solidarity around (Workers' Party of Korea) General Secretary Kim Jong-il ... to defend our republic and our socialism."

   Cheong anticipated that North Korea will direct the power transfer process in a "more clandestine and fruitful" way.


N. Korea's Dam Water Release Violates Int'l Law, S. Korea Says

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's unexpected discharge of dam water that caused the deaths of six South Korean citizens earlier this week was a violation of international law, South Korea's foreign ministry said on Sept. 11.

   The North's action contravened a principle established by the international customary law stating that a country's use of its own territory should not infringe on other countries' rights and interests, according to ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young.

   "North Korea's move this time can be viewed as having violated the international customary law," he said.

   Moon stopped short of revealing Seoul's plan to deal with the issue, saying the Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, will announce details later on.

   Earlier, South Korea's government was reviewing whether North Korea's abrupt dam discharge that caused a fatal flash flood on Sunday violated international law, officials said on Sept. 10.

   Early Sept. 6 morning, some 40 million tons of water from North Korea's Hwanggang Dam washed across the Imjin River that runs through South Korea's western region, sweeping away six people who were fishing or camping along the riverbanks. The victims, including an eight-year old boy, were all discovered dead.

   "We are currently working with related agencies, including the foreign affairs and justice ministries, to examine whether North Korea violated any international laws," said Chun Hae-sung, spokesperson for the Unification Ministry.


China Retrieved Corpses of 56 North Korean Defectors Shot Dead

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- China retrieved a few years ago the corpses of 56 North Koreans floating in a border river after they were apparently shot dead by North Korean soldiers while trying to defect, a report said on Sept. 13.

   "An official notice issued by police in the border town of Baishan in Jilin province describes how 53 corpses were discovered by local people on the morning of October 3, 2003, followed by three more at 5 a.m. the following day," said the report, which appeared on the Web site "North Korea Economy Watch," specializing in information on the North Korean economy.

   Citing the official document issued by the Badaogou Police Station in Baishan, a town in Changbai Korean Autonomous County, which borders North Korea, the report said, "An examination found that the dead were all citizens of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea." DPRK is North Korea's official name.

   China, North Korea's staunchest communist ally, sees North Korean defectors as economic migrants rather than refugees, and deports them under a secret agreement with North Korea so they could face persecution back home.

   Reports said that hundreds of thousands of North Korean defectors are hiding in China.

   Most North Korean defectors cross the border with China to seek shelter, mostly in South Korea, which has received nearly 20,000 North Korean defectors since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

   The U.S. has taken in about 70 North Korean refugees since the North Korean Human Rights Act was enacted years ago to help promote democracy in North Korea.

   The Chinese police document dated October 7, 2003, said that "Postmortems showed that the 56 bodies had all been shot. The evidence suggests that they had been shot by Korean armed border guards when attempting to cross illicitly into China."

   The dead consisted of 36 males and 20 females, including five boys and two girls, the report said, adding, "The bodies were cremated locally on October 6, and township officials are awaiting instructions from higher authority on what to do with the ashes and with possessions found on the bodies."


Chinese Premier to Visit North Korea Next Month: Sources

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao is expected to visit North Korea early next month amid discussion between Washington and Pyongyang about possible bilateral talks aimed at denuclearizing the North, diplomatic sources said on Sept. 14.

   Wen is likely to visit the North after visiting Mongolia, sources told Yonhap News Agency by telephone, adding that his visit will be made about Oct. 4-6. A detailed itinerary, however, has not been revealed.

   The move would come months after the premier canceled his earlier plan to visit the North, scheduled for the first half of the year, following Pyongyang's second nuclear test in defiance of opposition from the international community.

   Wen's visit is seen as an effort by China to play some kind of mediation role ahead of possible Washington-Pyongyang talks, observers say.

   On Sept. 11, the U.S. announced it will soon undertake bilateral negotiations with the North to persuade it to return to the suspended six-party talks.

   Pyongyang has boycotted the talks, claiming the negotiation framework was being used to infringe upon its sovereign right to develop nuclear and space technology. The six-party process also involves South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.


U.S. Designates N.K. among Four Countries Challenging U.S. Interests

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea is among four countries that will challenge U.S. national interests in the coming years, a U.S. intelligence report said on Sept. 15.

   The 2009 National Intelligence Strategy report, which appeared on the Web site of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, cited North Korea's nuclear and missile capabilities and their possible proliferation.

   "North Korea continues to threaten peace and security in Northeast Asia because of its sustained pursuit of nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities, its transfer of these capabilities to third parties, its erratic behavior and its large conventional military capability," said the quadrennial report compiling information from 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.

   Three other countries cited are Iran, China and Russia.

   The Barack Obama administration is considering sending Stephen Bosworth, special representative for North Korea, to Pyongyang to persuade the North to return to the six-party talks, which the North has said it will boycott for good due to international sanctions after its nuclear and missile tests earlier this year.

   The intelligence report comes on the heels of a poll last month that described North Korea as the biggest security threat to the U.S.

   "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 adults," Rasmussen Reports, an electronic public opinion pollster, said in a 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."


Kim Jong-il Is Physically, Mentally Healthy: U.S. Commander

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il demonstrated that he is fit enough mentally as well as physically to control state affairs in his meeting with former U.S. President Bill Clinton last month, the commander of U.S. Pacific forces said on Sept. 15.

   "Former President Clinton's trip to North Korea as a private citizen, that was great intelligence for us," Adm. Timothy Keating said in a forum here hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Kim Jong-il was upright. He appears to be cozy and entertaining reasonable discussions with the former president. We were less certain of those capabilities than we are now."

   Keating was referring to Clinton's trip to Pyongyang in early August to meet with Kim for more than three hours to win the release of two American journalists held for illegal entry, a meeting that paved the way for possible rapprochement between North Korea and the U.S.

   Keating said he supports international efforts to denuclearize North Korea through multilateral dialogue, citing the instability surrounding a possible power transition to Kim Jong-il's third and youngest son, Jong-un.

   "That (Kim Jong-il's meeting with Clinton) doesn't necessarily indicate what's going to happen in North Korea, for the succession plan is not clear," he said. "We continue to seek, with the State Department's lead, the resumption of six-party talks for a certifiably denuclearized peninsula. We, the Pacific Command, remain firmly in support of the State Department efforts to get to certifiable denuclearization."