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2009/12/24 10:54 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER No. 86 (December 24, 2009)


U.N. Presses North Korea to Reform Human Rights Condition

NEW YORK (Yonhap) -- The United Nations General Assembly has approved a resolution on North Korean human rights for the fifth straight year, calling on the socialist North to improve its dire human rights conditions.

   The non-binding resolution, co-sponsored by 53 nations, was supported on Dec. 18 by 99 of 192 U.N. member countries, including the United States, Japan, Germany and South Korea. Twenty countries, including China and Malaysia, voted against the resolution, while 63 countries abstained from voting.

   The bill was first adopted by a special committee of the U.N. General Assembly on Nov. 19.

   The U.N. has issued a similar resolution condemning the socialist nation's human rights record every year since 2005.

   The U.N. and many global human rights agencies argue on the basis of defectors' testimony and other evidence that "systemic, widespread, and grave violations" are prevalent in North Korea.

   The bill expressed concern over persisting torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments, including the inhumane condition of detention facilities and public executions in North Korea, and urged its government to "respect fully all human rights and fundamental freedom."

   South Korea, under the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration, co-sponsored the resolution for the first time last year, ending Seoul's long-held practice of abstaining from a series of votes on North Korea's human rights condition in an apparent attempt to avoid antagonizing Pyongyang.


South Korea Affirms North Korea Unable to Miniaturize Nukes

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea said on Dec. 21 North Korea has yet to obtain the technology to miniaturize nuclear bombs, allaying concerns sparked by reports that Pyongyang is developing the ability to tip its missiles with nuclear warheads.

   "There has been no substantial information or conclusive tips" to indicate the North has developed the capability to mount nuclear warheads on missiles, said Won Tae-jae, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense.

   North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests since 2006, including one in May this year. But South Korea and the U.S. -- which refuse to classify the communist state as a nuclear power -- have dismissed the likelihood of the North being capable of mounting nuclear devices on its missiles.

   On Dec. 20, the Korea Institute of Defense Analyses in Seoul, a state-run think tank, reportedly concluded that the North may soon become capable of successfully producing a small nuclear warhead.

   Won said the reports amount to general assumptions and that South Korea keeps close tabs on activities by the North to develop the technology, which would drive up Pyongyang's capability to threaten neighbors and its bargaining power in nuclear negotiations.

   "We're tracking and scrutinizing the North concerning its efforts to enhance its arms delivery capabilities," he told reporters.

   In April, North Korea launched a rocket that experts say could easily be converted into a long-range missile capable of hitting the U.S.

   The launch, followed by the second nuclear blast, drew U.N. sanctions tougher than those imposed when North Korea conducted its first atomic test in October 2006.


U.S. Waiting for North Korean Response on Six-party Talks

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States expressed optimism on Dec. 22 that North Korea will come back to the six-party talks on ending its nuclear weapons programs even though Pyongyang has yet to say when that might happen.

   "We thought we had a constructive meeting, but we obviously await, you know, a formal indication from North Korea as to what it's prepared to do," said Philip Crowley, assistant secretary of state for public affairs. "There have been a number of times where people have declared the six-party process dead before. I think those claims of mortality have been premature."

   Crowley was discussing the outcome of the visit earlier this month to Pyongyang by Stephen Bosworth, special representative for North Korea policy, in the first high-level contact with the North since President Barack Obama's inauguration in January.

   Bosworth said last week that he failed to obtain the North's commitment to reopen the six-party talks, stalled over U.N. sanctions for its nuclear and missile tests, but was still optimistic.

   "They've indicated they would like to resume the six-party process," he said. "They have agreed on the essential nature of the joint statement of 2005."

   The 2005 six-party deal calls for North Korea's nuclear dismantlement in return for massive economic aid, diplomatic recognition by Washington and Tokyo and establishment of a peace regime to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

   Crowley said Bosworth has conveyed Washington's position clearly. "As Ambassador Bosworth told you last week, our message to North Korea during his recent visit to Pyongyang was very clear," the spokesman said. "We want to see North Korea return to the six-party process."

   Bosworth himself said that he conveyed "very directly to the North Korean leadership a vision for the future which would be a lot different than the present or the past, and ways in which we could improve both our bilateral relationship and improve North Korea's overall relationships within Northeast Asia."

   The U.S. point man on North Korea conveyed Obama's personal letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il through Kang Sok-ju, first vice foreign minister in charge of the nuclear issue, "to convince them to do what is in their interest, and that's come back to the table and ultimately live up to the agreements they signed to give up and to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula."


U.S. Scientist 'Impressed' by Young N.K. Talent

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea may lack resources, but its scientists have strengths that their Western counterparts often lack -- access to a wide pool of young talent and a passion for science, a U.S. professor who recently visited Pyongyang noted on Dec. 22.

   Stuart Thorson, who made a Dec. 10-15 trip there as part of a six-member U.S. academic delegation, said his team was deeply impressed by how North Korea fosters young science talent at a time when the cohorts of students entering the field is dwindling around the world.

   "(An) area we were very impressed by was how they identify young science talent," Thorson, a political science professor at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University in New York, said in an interview in Seoul.

   "Your country (South Korea) and my country, we have a big challenge in getting young people, especially young girls to want to go into science. We all want to make money," he said.

   The North Korean government sends senior scientists to provinces to identify and encourage young children who "don't test well but are very curious, have scientific curiosity," he noted.

   The team of prominent U.S. scientists, a consortium led by Peter Agre, a Nobel laureate in chemistry, visited the Kim Chaek University of Technology, laboratories and hospitals in Pyongyang to explore ways of cooperation in medical science, biology, energy development, engineering and other areas of science. Both sides issued a draft agreement on such cooperation, which needs further consultations with U.S. universities and also governments of both sides to go into effect.

   Syracuse University initiated engagement in the scientific sector with Kim Chaek University in 2001, inviting North Korean experts and helping build North Korea's first digital library there. The American school provided open source software that can be used to manage the library, instead of computers or other technological equipment whose shipments to North Korea are banned under the U.S. export control rules.

   The digital library at the university was where North Korean leader Kim Jong-il made his first New Year inspection in 2006, a sign of the importance the country attaches to science technology as a way to rebuild its frail economy.

   Thorson said the five-story library building, equipped with 12 electronic reading rooms that can accommodate 370 people, was "very modern."

   "They seem very pleased. In fact, they are building two more. It is a good sign," the political science professor said, referring to Kim Il Sung University, which is about to open a digital library, and the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology that has just broken ground for one.

   But the use of the Internet is still mostly off-limits to local students, while Western journalists famously logged on to their Facebook accounts at the library while covering the New York Philharmonic Orchestra performance in Pyongyang in early 2008.

   "There are still restrictions on how it can be used," he said. "I am only aware they require special permission."

   Thorson recalled a slew of "very impressive" young scientists he met in the North, such as the female chief of an institute dedicated to studying the role of mushrooms in the ecosystem, several scientists who presented their research in English and an analyst whose study on mathematical models of chaos has been published in various international journals.


Talks on North Korean Nukes Should Resume Before March

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea and regional powers should reopen their nuclear talks by the end of February if they want to salvage the often-troubled forum, South Korea's foreign minister said on Dec. 22.

   "The six-party talks should be resumed in January or before the Lunar New Year's holiday (in mid-February) or the end of February. Otherwise the life of the talks may come to an end," Yu Myung-hwan told reporters.

   The minister's comments come about two weeks after high-powered U.S. envoy Stephen Bosworth visited Pyongyang in an attempt to pull North Korea back to the six-way forum. Bosworth met with North Korean First-vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok-ju, known to be the architect of the socialist regime's nuclear diplomacy.

   North Korea and the U.S. announced afterward that the meeting yielded a "common understanding" on the need to reconvene the Beijing-based talks. But they have yet to agree on when or under what conditions the North will return to the bargaining table.

   Many expect the two sides to hold additional talks to discuss those details after the New Year.

   Yu's comments indicated that South Korea may have a specific timetable to restart the six-party talks, which have been deadlocked for a year.

   A South Korean nuclear negotiator, however, said the minister was just emphasizing Seoul's position that the multilateral negotiations also involving China, Russia, and Japan should be resumed as early as possible.

   "No discussions are under way yet among relevant parties on a concrete schedule for a new round of six-way talks," he said on condition of anonymity.