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2009/10/22 10:52 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 77 (October 22, 2009)


President Lee Says N. Korea Should Ditch Nuke Plan

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said on Oct. 15 that in order to achieve development North Korea should give up its nuclear ambitions as soon as possible and return to the international community.

   "(Now) is the time for Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear program," President Lee said in a meeting with foreign diplomats stationed in Seoul. "In that context, I hope the North will take a positive stance."

   The chief executive thanked the diplomats for their countries' support for a United Nations resolution for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, saying the region should be free from nuclear weapons.

   Stressing that the South is stepping up efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear standoff, Lee called on Pyongyang to open its doors to the outside world and join the international community in order to create opportunities for development.

   "In that respect, South Korea is negotiating with six-party nations about a one-time, comprehensive solution to the nuclear issue," he said.

   With international efforts to resolve the nuclear issue making little headway, Lee has proposed a "grand bargain" of massive aid in exchange for denuclearization, which aims to irreversibly dismantle the North's nuclear program once and for all, rather than in phases.

   Shortly after the U.N. Security Council's condemnation of its long-range rocket launch in April, the North announced it was quitting the six-party forum. It conducted a second nuclear test the following month, and the U.N. responded with tougher sanctions.

   In July, the North's No. 2 leader, Kim Yong-nam, said at an international gathering that the six-way talks had come to a permanent end. The six-party talks involve the Koreas, the U.S., Japan, Russia and China.


154,000 Political Prisoners in North Korea: Lawmaker

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is operating six prison camps where 154,000 inmates remain locked up, a South Korean lawmaker said on Oct. 17.

   According to Yoon Sang-hyun from the ruling Grand National Party, the North maintained 10 such places holding about 200,000 political prisoners until the late 1990s. But the socialist state closed down four of the camps in the face of mounting international criticism.

   North Korea often denies holding any political prisoners, stressing that there are no human rights abuses committed in the country.

   The lawmaker claimed that political prisoners are forced to work more than 10 hours a day and receive only 200 grams of food per day. They are also denied access to medical care, he said.

   People incarcerated in the prison camps include political opponents or those who lost out in power struggles. Others are imprisoned for making disrespectful remarks about the country's leader Kim Jong-il.


Seoul Dismisses U.S. Comment on N. Korea Summit Proposal

SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Oct. 18 dismissed a U.S. official's comment that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has invited South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to a summit in Pyongyang, saying there was an apparent "misunderstanding."

   In a briefing to reporters on U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates' trip to Asia, a Pentagon official said the North Korean leader was seeking a summit with his South Korean counterpart.

   "Now suddenly we reached charm face with North Korea, with Kim Jong-il inviting Lee Myung-bak of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) to visit Pyongyang, with (Premier) Wen Jiabao from China going to visit Pyongyang," the official said in the background briefing, under customary condition of anonymity.

   An official at Seoul's presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said there appears to have been a misunderstanding on the part of the U.S. as to Seoul's briefing of Washington regarding Lee's recent meeting with Premier Wen.

   In a trilateral summit that also involved Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Wen said the North was hoping to improve ties with South Korea and Japan.

   Wen made a high-profile trip to Pyongyang earlier this month for a meeting with the North Korean leader, who also told Wen that his country may rejoin international dialogue on ending its nuclear ambitions depending on the outcome of bilateral talks with the U.S.

   The Cheong Wa Dae official said that at the summit between Lee and Wen, an inter-Korean summit was mentioned only in the context that it would be possible if South-North relations improve.

   "We briefed the U.S. administration on the outcome of the summit (with China), and I think there must have been some kind of misunderstanding on the U.S. side," the official in Seoul told reporters.

   Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, addressing the controversy, said, "The government of President Lee Myung-bak is on record as expressing its longstanding willingness in principle to hold talks with North Korea, including at the level of the two leaders, in order to promote denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

   "Any decision regarding possible talks between South and North Korea, however, would be made by the Republic of Korea," he said.

   Lee Dong-kwan, top secretary to the South Korean president on public relations, said what was important was not whether there had been in an invitation from the North Korean leader, but whether such a meeting will lead to any actual progress.

   "The president has repeatedly stressed that he will welcome a meeting with North Korean leader Kim at any time, but that such a meeting will be meaningless unless they are both sincerely willing to make progress," he said.


N. Koreans Forbidden to Discuss Power Transfer

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Most North Koreans know about the pending father-to-son power transfer in their country's ruling family, but are forbidden to discuss it in public, according to a diplomatic source privy to North Korean affairs on Oct. 19.

   "My understanding is that the people are now aware of Kim Jong-un's existence. They are aware that he has been anointed as the successor (to Kim Jong-il)," a senior Western diplomat familiar with the inner workings of the North Korean government said, speaking strictly on condition of anonymity at an embassy in Seoul.

   Rumors of a power transfer in the one of the world's most secretive nations surfaced last year following reports that Kim Jong-il, 67, had suffered a stroke. Intelligence officials in Seoul believe his third and youngest son, Jong-un, has been tapped as successor.

   When North Koreans are asked about Jong-un, they deny his existence, the diplomat said, and according to his sources with access to high-level North Korean officials, the succession will not be announced "until the government and Kim Jong-il feel the time is correct to do so."

   "All the ordinary people know (of the existence of) Kim Jong-un, but they are not allowed to discuss it. It has always been the case that any discussion of the succession is forbidden," the diplomat said.

   He said the North Korean leader appears to want bilateral talks not just with the U.S., but with "all members of the six-party talks," including South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

   Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, after returning from a three-day trip to Pyongyang earlier this month, said Kim wants to improve relations with Seoul as well as Washington, raising speculation about a possible inter-Korean summit. Officials in Seoul deny there has been any specific proposal from Kim.

   Seoul has been very measured in engaging North Korea, with President Lee vowing to link inter-Korean exchanges to the North's irreversible steps toward denuclearization.

   "I think the position for Kim Jong-il is that he would like to be able to persuade your government (Seoul) to break away from that position and have a bilateral with him without insisting upon real verifiable progress on denuclearization."

   "That's what he wants. He wants a summit without preconditions," said the diplomat.

   He also said that Kim's health is "clearly recovering." The Chinese officials who were present at Kim's meeting with Premier Wen described the North Korean leader as "very lively, very dynamic and very engaged," he said.

   The diplomat also said he believes "a long process" is needed before the North returns to the six-party denuclearization talks, which involves the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan. The communist nation is committed to returning only if it gets "results" from anticipated one-on-one talks with the U.S., he said.

   "I think the North Koreans have committed themselves to returning to the multilateral process when they get the results they want from the bilateral process. I don't think there is going to be a quick result (in the North returning to the six-party talks)."


North Korean Leader's Top Aide Visits Beijing: Source

SEOUL/BEIJING (Yonhap) -- North Korea's top official in charge of inter-Korean relations visited China over the past week, raising speculation about the North's diplomatic moves to improve relations with regional countries, a diplomatic source in Beijing said on Oct. 20.

   Kim Yang-gon, who is Pyongyang's point man on Seoul as director of the United Front Department, an intelligence agency under the North's Workers' Party, arrived in Beijing on Oct. 15 and returned home on Oct. 20, said the source.

   "Director Kim stayed in Beijing for six days before returning home via an Air Koryo flight on Oct. 22," said the source, adding he had previously made secret trips to China on many occasions.

   Kim met with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in Seoul in August after offering condolences over the death of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung on behalf of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

   Meanwhile, MBC-TV reported on Oct. 22 that Kim Yang-gon met with President Lee's elder brother and former deputy speaker of the National Assembly, Lee Sang-deuk, at an unidentified location in the Chinese capital.

   MBC, citing an unidentified source in Beijing, said that Kim and Lee may have discussed various inter-Korean issues, including a summit meeting, during their confidential meeting in China on Oct. 15.

   But the elder Lee, who is now on a trip to Indonesia in his capacity as a presidential envoy, flatly denied the report, saying he has never seen North Korea's Kim Yang-gon in person.

   "I was traveling in India on Oct. 14-15. I didn't go to Beijing at that time. Moreover, I have never met Kim Yang-gon," Lee told Yonhap News by telephone.

   "After a trip to India, I returned home on Oct. 16 and stayed in Seoul until Oct. 17. I arrived in Indonesia on Oct. 18 to attend the (nation's) presidential inauguration ceremony," he said.

   A ranking government official in Seoul also dismissed the MBC report as "entirely groundless."