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2009/09/24 10:45 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 73 (September 24, 2009)


S. Korea Confirms Location of North's Nuclear Weapons: Defense Minister

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea's defense minister-nominee said on Sept. 18 that the government has confirmed where the North stores its nuclear weapons.

   Kim Tae-young, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and nominated last week as the new defense minister, answered in the affirmative to a question given by a ruling party lawmaker at a parliamentary confirmation hearing.

   Kim also assured lawmakers that South Korea and the U.S. have the joint defensive capability to strike a blow to North Korea before it uses nuclear weapons.

   "South Korea and U.S. joint forces have enough capabilities," Kim said.

   Kim added that the two countries are in a position to win any war against North Korea through their joint operation system.

   "If there is any possibility that the North will attack us with its nuclear (weapons) at a time of war, we will make the best of our communication channels between South Korea and the U.S.," said Kim. "The final decision on the strike (against North's nuclear facilities) will be jointly decided by the supreme command organizations of South Korea and the U.S."

   In his summit with President Lee Myung-bak in Washington in June, U.S. President Barack Obama reaffirmed in writing his country's commitment to providing an "extended nuclear umbrella" for South Korea in response to increasing nuclear threats from the North.

   It was the first time for the allies' leaders to make the commitment, though U.S. defense ministers have promised since 1978 to offer necessary nuclear deterrence capabilities to South Korea.


No Bilateral Talks with N. Korea without Nuclear Solution: Japanese FM

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- There will be no bilateral talks between Japan and North Korea unless the secretive country's nuclear issue is resolved, Japan's top diplomat said on Sept. 18.

   "Under the current circumstances, there will be no bilateral talks between Japan and North Korea," Japan's new Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said in an interview with a group of visiting South Korean journalists in Tokyo.
Okada, named to head the foreign ministry in the new Japanese government of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama which took office on Sept. 16, noted that North Korea is currently under U.N. sanctions for its defiant missile launches in April and nuclear test in May.

   Okada's comments came after North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was reported to have said he is willing to resolve an ongoing nuclear standoff with the international community through "bilateral or multilateral dialogue." The U.S. announced last week it will soon undertake bilateral negotiations with North Korea to persuade it to return to the talks.

   He stressed that the five other countries in the talks "need to strengthen cooperation and exert pressure on each other" in order to bring the North back to the table.

   The Japanese foreign minister also brought up the abduction issue, saying that "North Korea should carry out a renewed investigation into the Japanese abduction cases, as it had earlier agreed."

   Tokyo has urged Pyongyang to come clean on its abduction of Japanese nationals in the late 1970s and early 80s, while the North says the issue was settled after it returned several surviving abductees.

   In line with a new foreign policy envisioned by Yukio Hatoyama who was elected prime minister on Sept. 16, the Japanese foreign minister said a relationship between Japan and South Korea should be solid and forward-moving.

   "Japan has addressed the (historical) issues and has made some agreement with South Korea in the past, including the Murayama Statement," he said. "However, some Japanese high-ranking officials and prime ministers cast a dark shadow on the Japan-South Korea relations, making comments against those agreements."

   Newly elected Hatoyama has been publicly saying that if he takes power, he will not visit the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors convicted World War II criminals. South Koreans view the shrine visits by Japanese leaders as proof that Tokyo is not remorseful about its past atrocities in spite of its apology in 1995 by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, commonly referred to as the Murayama Statement.


North Korea to Hold Match with FC Nantes in France

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's national football team will hold a friendly match with French club FC Nantes next month as part of its preparations for next year's world cup finals, a French football Web site said on Sept. 19.

   The Oct. 9 match will be held at the home stadium of the French club based in the western city of Nantes and currently playing in League 2, said the Web site run by France Football.

   Through weeks of training in Europe next month, North Korea is expected to try to sharpen its skills ahead of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

   North Korea qualified for the World Cup finals for the first time since 1966.


Obama Says Kim Jong-il Is Healthy and in Firm Control

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Barack Obama said on Sept. 20 that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is healthy and in firm control of state affairs.

   "I think President Clinton's assessment was that (Kim Jong-il is) pretty healthy and in control," Obama said in an interview with CNN. "That's important to know, because we don't have a lot of interaction with the North Koreans. And, you know, President Clinton had a chance to see him close up and have conversations with him."

   Obama was speaking about former President Bill Clinton's visit to Pyongyang early August to meet with Kim Jong-il for the release of two American journalists held there for illegal entry.

   Obama said he would "not go into any more details than that," but added, "There's no doubt that this is somebody who, you know, I think for a while people thought was slipping away. He's reasserted himself. It does appear ... he was more concerned about succession when he was sick, maybe less so now that he's well."

   Obama's remarks are in line with those of Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, who said last week that "Kim Jong-il was upright. He appears to be cogent and entertaining reasonable discussions with the former president. We were less certain of those capabilities than we are now."

   Clinton's Pyongyang trip appears to have terminated suspicions over the health of the reclusive leader amid reports that he had begun the process to cede power to his third and youngest son, Jong-un, after apparently suffering a stroke in the summer of last year.

   Kim's health failure has been often cited for the North's provocations early this year, including its second nuclear test and a barrage of missile and rocket tests, only to invite international sanctions.

   A possible regime collapse has since been a topic of discussion not only in the academic circle, but also within the U.S. government.


North Korean Corn Crop to Fall by 40 Percent: Agronomist

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's corn yield this year is expected to fall by 40 percent due to a fertilizer shortage and bad weather, the head of a Seoul-based aid group said on Sept. 22 after a survey in the North.

   The North's corn crop for this year is estimated to be less than 1.5 million tons, considerably down from the 2.5 million to 3 million tons it usually garners, said Kim Soon-kwon, a leading corn biologist and head of the International Corn Foundation. The forecast yield portends a severe food shortage in the country where corn is believed to make up 40 percent of the total food supply.

   "Of all the corn harvests I've seen while visiting North Korea over the past 12 years, this year's crop was the worst," Kim said over the telephone from China where he was staying after last week's trip to the North.

   During the Sept. 12-16 trip, he surveyed corn farms on the outskirts of Pyongyang and around Mount Myohyang and found a widespread shortage of fertilizer had slowed corn growth. Also, a drought in July -- a critical period for the crop -- followed by heavy downpours further damaged corn fields, he said.

   "Corn needs fertilizer more than any other grain," Kim explained. "The fact that the fertilizer had not been provided appropriately because of the limbo in inter-Korean relations is a major factor in the bad crop." said Kim, who spent 17 years in Africa helping develop higher-yield corn seeds and spreading farming technologies.

   Since 1999, the South Korean government has provided an average 300,000 tons of fertilizer worth 96 billion won (US$77 million) to the North every year to help ease the country's chronic food shortages. But the aid was suspended after conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office last year, linking inter-Korean aid to progress in North Korea's denuclearization.

   North Korea's own fertilizer output is estimated at less than 500,000 tons a year, about a third of the 1.5 million tons the country needs for its grain farming, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry.

   Aid activists from World Vision, who visited North Korea last month, said rice paddies were more yellow than green this year due to a fertilizer shortage, which will equate to low yields in the harvest season.

   Seoul expects the North will fall more than one million tons short of the 5.48 million tons of food needed to feed its population of 24 million this year.


N. Korean Trade with China Falls Slightly in First Half of 2009

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's trade with China declined slightly during the first half of this year, likely due to falling prices of crude oil, a South Korean agency and officials said on Sept. 23.

   Trade volume during the January-June period totaled US$1.1 billion, down 3.7 percent from a year earlier and the first decline since 1999, the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) said in an emailed release that cited official Chinese data. The drop was in striking contrast with a 41 percent increase during the same period last year and a 16 percent gain in 2007.

   North Korea was put under U.N. sanctions for its nuclear test in May, barring its weapons trade and strictly limiting cash flows into the country. The sanctions, however, do not appear to have affected North Korea's trade with China, an official at South Korea's Unification Ministry said.

   Prices of crude oil, which account for a quarter of North Korean imports from China, subsided this year after steep hikes in 2007 and 2008, said Jeon Dong-myeong, a ministry official overseeing North Korean trade.

   "It's not a steep decline. The 3.7 percent decline in trade volume can arise from price differences," Jeon said.

   North Korean imports from China amounted to $750 million, down 8.4 percent, while exports increased by 8.2 percent to $352 million, according to KOTRA.

   By item, North Korea's crude oil imports showed the steepest decline of 54 percent, or $111 million.

   Food imports slightly increased to $23 million, and fertilizer imports considerably grew to $11.9 million, close to the amount the North brought in during all of 2008, $12.7 million.

   Despite the international sanctions on the country, North Korea's trade with Germany gained by 46.53 million euros during the first half of this year, according to KOTRA. Citing Germany's figures, it said trade volume was up 160 percent from the same period last year, and up 30 percent from the total trade volume the two countries registered for last year.