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2009/11/19 11:24 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 81 (November 19, 2009)


U.S. Warns N. Korea Not to Raise Tension: State Dept.

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States on Nov. 13 urged North Korea not to escalate tension on the Korean Peninsula ahead of the planned visit to Seoul by U.S. President Barack Obama next week.

   "We urge North Korea to refrain from that kind of bellicose rhetoric in general and avoid any kind of provocative actions that will further inflame tension in the region," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said.

   Kelly was responding to reports by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency earlier in the day that the North's military will take retaliatory action against South Korea for the naval clash in the Yellow Sea on Nov. 10.

   The skirmish left a North Korean patrol boat crippled within minutes of entering South Korean waters and ignored warning shots.

   Some reports said the North Korean vessel retreated in flames, and one North Korean soldier was killed and several others injured. There were no South Korean casualties.

   Similar skirmishes in 1999 and 2002 caused dozens of casualties on the part of the South Korean navy. North Korea has long tried to defy the Northern Limit Line, the de-facto sea border drawn by the United Nations Command after the 1950-1953 Korean War.

   The clash comes just days before Obama's visit to Seoul on Nov. 18.

   Obama will likely discuss with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak how to persuade North Korea to come back to the six-party talks on ending its nuclear weapons programs, among others.

   The North's intrusion is seen by some as an attempt to attract U.S. attention as Obama tours Asia.

   "We discussed both North Korea and the situation in Iran, recognizing that it's absolutely vital that both countries meet their international obligations," Obama said, according to a transcript released by the White House. "If they do, then they can open the door to a better future. If not, we will remain united in implementing U.N. resolutions that are in place and continuing to work in an international context to move towards an agenda of nonproliferation."


North Korea Unwilling to Give up Nuclear Ambition

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea does not have any intention of abandoning its nuclear ambitions in the near future, a former senior U.S. diplomat said on Nov. 16, forecasting that an upcoming meeting between Washington and Pyongyang will do little to resolve stalled multilateral denuclearization talks.

   David Straub, associate director of the Korean Studies Program at the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University, said at a seminar in Seoul that the U.S. representative for North Korea policy will basically "convey a short and simple message" to the country's leaders during his visit.

   North Korea has hinted at a possible return to the six-party talks, which also involve South Korea, China, Japan and Russia, contingent on its bilateral talks with the U.S.

   State Department spokesman Ian Kelly recently announced that Stephen Bosworth will go to Pyongyang between "the end of this month or the beginning of December" to woo the North back to the six-party talks.

   Straub, a former U.S. diplomat and one-time head of the Korea desk at the State Department, recently accompanied former U.S. President Bill Clinton on a trip to Pyongyang to negotiate the release of two U.S. journalists.

   The message, according to Straub, is that the U.S. is "prepared to strike a deal with North Korea to end its nuclear program in exchange for normalized relations ... a peace regime and provision of economic assistance."

   Straub, however, predicted that the North will not accept the offer, saying that North Koreans will not seriously consider giving up their nuclear weapons and the U.S. is unlikely to fall for Pyongyang's "salami tactic" of dividing its denuclearization process into a multitude of bargaining chips and demanding incentives for each of them.

   "What does this mean? It probably means a long stalemate. I see no indication that North Korea, in the foreseeable future, is prepared to give up its nuclear weapons programs on terms that the U.S. will find politically acceptable."

   He also predicted that the current U.S. government won't consider any military option on North Korea.

   "I don't anticipate war. The Obama administration is smart enough to realize that a military option is not a practical thing because of the security of our South Korean ally," he said, adding that any option resulting in a disaster for South Korea would result in a "political disaster" for any U.S. president.

   Straub also predicted that South Korea may play an increasingly important role in shaping the outcome of the denuclearization talks.

   "There is no country in the world that spends more time, resources and worries more about North Korea than South Korea," Straub said, noting that Seoul's role is expected to increase even more, "in part because the gap with North Korea is going to continue to grow."

   "The U.S. governments, now and in the future, will pay very very close attention to the attitudes of South Korea, because South Korea is very important. And increasingly China will too."


Obama Calls for N. Korea's Return to Six-party Talks

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Barack Obama on Nov. 17 called on North Korea to return to the six-party talks, urging the North to choose prosperity and security through its denuclearization instead of continued isolation with nuclear armaments.

   "North Korea has a choice," Obama said in a joint news conference with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing, according to a transcript released by the White House. "It can continue down the path of confrontation and provocation that has led to less security, less prosperity, and more isolation from the global community, or it can choose to become a full member of the international community, which will give a better life to its people by living up to international obligations and foregoing nuclear weapons."

   The remarks were made after Obama met with Hu on the third day of his four-day stay in China, the third stop on his Asian tour, which also brought him to Japan and Singapore. He will fly to Seoul Wednesday.

   Obama urged the North to return to the six-party talks, deadlocked over U.N. sanctions for the North's nuclear and missile tests earlier this year.

   Obama thanked Hu for "China's support for the global nonproliferation regime as well as the verifiable elimination of North Korea's nuclear weapons program," adding, "We agreed on the importance of resuming the six-party talks as soon as possible."

   Hu, for his part, expressed China's commitment "to continue the denuclearization process of the Korean Peninsula and six-party talks process in a bid to uphold the peace and stability in Northeast Asia."

   North Korean leader Kim Jong-il last month expressed his willingness to return to the six-party talks pending the outcome of the bilateral talks with the U.S. after months of provocations earlier this year, including threats of a nuclear war to cope with what it calls U.S. hostile attitude.

   In return, the U.S. State Department has said Stephen Bosworth, special representative for North Korea policy, will visit Pyongyang by the end of the year to discuss North Korea's return to the multilateral nuclear forum.

   U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman told reporters in Beijing that Obama "expressed appreciation for Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Pyongyang in which he came back with a statement from Kim Jung-il saying that North Korea was prepared to move towards six-party talks under certain conditions."

   Kim's remarks on a possible return to the six-party talks were made when he met with Wen in Pyongyang early last month.

   The Chinese premier offered hefty economic aid, including construction of a bridge over the Aprok River linking the two communist neighbors, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral ties.

   Obama "made clear to President Hu that we expect the Chinese to convene a six-party meeting as soon as possible," Huntsman said.

   In a joint statement released after the Obama-Hu meeting, the two sides expressed hope that the "multilateral mechanism of the six-party talks would convene at an early date."

   The statement said, "The Chinese side welcomed the start of high-level contacts between the United States and the DPRK." DPRK is North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.


U.S. Urged to Discuss N.K.'s Observer Status in Int'l Financial Bodies

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States was urged on Nov. 17 to use upcoming bilateral talks with North Korea to discuss non-nuclear issues, including helping the regime join international financial institutions as an observer and also the resumption of humanitarian aid.

   The recommendations were made in a policy report by James Schoff, associate director of Asia-Pacific Studies at the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, a think tank in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His report comes as the U.S. is ready to send Stephen Bosworth, special representative for North Korea policy, to Pyongyang next month to woo the North back to the six-party nuclear talks.

   "The United States cannot use bilateral talks with North Korea to determine what a peace regime would look like, but it can address normalization scenarios and conditions, and it can explain what Washington would be willing to support in other multilateral talks," Schoff said in the report, "Broaching Peace Regime Concepts to Support North Korean Denuclearization."

   In announcing Bosworth's trip to Pyongyang, the State Department early this month said that the U.S. point man on North Korea will not discuss substance but rather ways to persuade the North back to the multilateral talks, which Pyongyang has boycotted over U.N. sanctions for its nuclear and missile tests.

   North Korea has demanded the nuclear issue be resolved through bilateral talks, although its leader, Kim Jong-il, softened his position last month, saying the North was ready to return to the talks pending the outcome of the bilateral discussions.

   The U.S. needs to "support DPRK observer status in international financial institutions (IFI) and could allow IFI economists to discuss economic reform strategies with DPRK counterparts and develop a path for future DPRK membership," the report said. DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Repubic of Korea, North Korea's official name.

   North Korea has expressed its intention to join the International Monetary Fund, Asia Monetary Fund and other global financial bodies, but those institutions are unable to invite the North due to opposition from the U.S., which has a veto power or at least greater say in those bodies.

   U.S. domestic laws prohibit the administration from allowing North Korea or any other countries that are being sanctioned to join international financial institutions.

   The report also urged the U.S. to resume humanitarian aid, although the aid "should be need based and conducted in accordance with monitoring protocols previously agreed to by the DPRK."

   Also recommended were increasing official, academic and cultural exchanges and allowing "commercially viable, legal trade with North Korea consistent with U.N. sanctions."


Somali Pirates Hijack Ship with 28 North Koreans Aboard

BRUSSELS (Yonhap) -- A Singapore-operated chemical tanker with 28 North Korean crew members on board has been hijacked by Somali pirates off the Seychelles Islands, wire reports and the European Union's naval force said on Nov. 17.

   The European Union's naval force said in a statement that the MV Theresa VIII, registered in the U.S. Virgin Islands, was hijacked on Nov. 16 as it was heading to the Kenyan port of Mombasa about 180 nautical miles off the Indian Ocean islands.

   "Theresa VIII has a deadweight of 22,294 tons and a crew of 28 North Koreans. The vessel, which was heading for Mombasa (Kenya), has turned around and is now heading north," the statement said.

   A spokesman for the EU naval force contacted by Yonhap News Agency said he has not obtained any other information on the hijacked vessel beyond what was said in the statement.