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2009/12/31 10:57 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 87 (December 31, 2009)


North Korea-U.S. Ties Change to Dialogue in 2009: Newspaper

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea and the United States have seen their relations in 2009 shift to dialogue from confrontation following the communist country's long-range missile launch, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper based in Japan said Dec. 24.

   "North Korea and related countries have attempted to establish a new stage (of diplomacy)," Choson Sinbo, a Tokyo-based newspaper seen as a North Korean mouthpiece, reported. "Pyongyang and Washington transformed their hostile ties into peaceful relations through bilateral talks."

   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., heightening tension on the Korean Peninsula and drawing criticism from the international community.

   The launch, combined with a nuclear test a month later, prompted the United Nations to impose sanctions on the isolated state that were tougher than those enforced when Pyongyang conducted its first atomic test in October 2006.

   Choson Sinbo also said Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's October visit to Pyongyang has lent power to North Korea's position that the resumption of the stalled six-way talks on the North's nuclear weapons program should hinge on the results of its negotiations with the U.S.

   "Taking the initiative was not a big state, but the DPRK (North Korea) dealt with the international situation from a 'watershed' viewpoint," the newspaper claimed. "North Korea positively took advantage of former U.S. President Bill Clinton's visit."

   Choson Sinbo said Stephen Bosworth's visit to Pyongyang is an example showing that diplomacy between the North and the countries concerned has been lifted to a higher level in a far cry from the six-nation talks attended by lower-level officials.

   In August, Clinton visited the North to secure the release of two American journalists detained for illegally entering the North. Bosworth, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, visited Pyongyang earlier this month to coax the reluctant North back to the multilateral nuclear talks, but failed to secure a commitment.


N.K. Soldiers Treated Like Heroes for Arresting U.S. Journalists

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is treating like heroes the two soldiers who arrested U.S. journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee on the border with China in March, according to a report monitored in Seoul on Dec. 24.

   The soldiers, Son Yong-ho and Kim Chol, appeared on a special program on the North's Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station and reflected on the moment they detained the reporters, both from the San Francisco-based Current TV.

   During the program, produced to celebrate the inaugural anniversary of Kim Jong-il, the master of ceremonies said the North Korean leader gave both the soldiers the "Kim Il-sung Youth Honor Award" and special leave for their "feat." Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea, is the father of leader Kim Jong-il.

   Son said that he received a hero's welcome when he visited his hometown on leave. "I arrived in my hometown like a triumphant general. All the residents came out to give me wreaths of flowers. A top local official even gave me a ride on his shoulders," said Son.

   He also recalled the American reporters' arrest, saying, "Early on the morning of March 17, we arrested the people as they appeared to have hostile purposes. One of the Americans offered us money, begging for mercy, but we flatly turned down the offer."

   Ling and Lee were arrested while reporting on refugees fleeing North Korea. They were sentenced in June to 12 years in a labor camp, but were pardoned and freed in early August when former U.S. President Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang to negotiate their release.


North Korea to Focus on Bettering People's Lives in 2010

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's ruling Workers' Party has decided to put the top priority of its 2010 policy on bringing real changes to the people's lives, the party's official newspaper said Dec. 25.

   Defining 2010 as a meaningful year marking the 65th anniversary of the party's foundation, Rodong Sinmun said, "It is North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's devout wish to build a paradise for party members and the North Korean people as soon as possible," according to Uriminzokkiri, the North's official Web site.

   North Korea is widely believed to be unable to feed its population of 24 million due to chronic food shortages and economic hardships stemming from international sanctions on the communist country. On Nov. 30, the North conducted a surprise currency reform in an apparent bid to crack down on burgeoning free markets and keep runaway inflation in check.

   Rodong Sinmun cited the North Korean leader as saying during a recent field guidance tour to a steel company that "2010 will be a historic year for laying the foundation for a Kangsong Taeguk (great, prosperous and powerful nation) in 2012."

   "The door to a Kangsong Taeguk will swing open only when North Korea churns out steel. Rice and machinery will come from steel, which will also help the North reap fruits of happiness," the newspaper said.

   North Korea has set 2012, the birth centennial of its late founder Kim Il-sung, as the target year for reviving its moribund economy.


Kim Jong-il Conducts about 200 Field Guidance Tours This Year

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il conducted about 200 field guidance tours of local farms and military camps this year, marking the highest number of public appearances he has made in a year since coming to power, state media said on Dec. 26.

   Kim "conducted field guidance at as many as 200 places across the country," reported the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

   "It was a hard work unprecedented in history," the KCNA said, adding that the increased appearances demonstrated Kim's efforts to solve issues pertaining to people's livelihoods.

   The South Korean Unification Ministry said earlier in the month that the North Korean leader made 156 such trips as of Dec. 18, based on the North's media reports.

   The figure is the highest since Kim took power in 1998 from his late father, Kim Il-sung, and almost double his 90 public activities during last year, the ministry said.


North Korea Picks World Cup Berth as Top Sport Feat in 2009

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's qualification for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was the communist country's the most prominent achievement in sports in 2009, Pyongyang's official media said Dec. 26.

   In mid-June, North Korea clinched a berth to the World Cup finals for the first time since 1996 after a scoreless draw with Saudi Arabia, joining South Korea, Japan and Australia as Asia's four automatic qualifiers.

   "The DPRK (North Korea) team earned a ticket for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in last June, demonstrating the ever-growing might of the Korean footballers and delighting all the people of the country," the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.

   "For the excellent result beyond expectations of football experts and fans all over the world, the Asian Football Confederation conferred the prize of the best football association (for men) to the Korean Football Association in the annual awarding ceremony held some time ago," it said.

   The KCNA also said many DPRK athletes have won gold medals in wrestling, gymnastic, judo and weightlifting in other international tournaments.

   Yang Kyong-il placed first in the 55kg freestyle wrestling category of the 2009 World Wrestling Championship held in Denmark, while Hong Un-jong and Pak Hyon-suk, Olympic gold medalists, won the women's vaulting horse event at the 25th Universiad and the women's 63kg weightlifting category, respectively, at the 5th East Asian Games, it said.


Sino-N. Korean Ties Reach Higher Level in 2009: Rodong Sinmun

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Rodong Sinmun, the official organ of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party, said Dec. 29 that the country's relationship with China has reached a higher plateau in 2009, the Sino-North Korean friendship year, according to Pyongyang's official Web site.

   "Enthusiasm for friendship between North Korea and China has been hotter than ever this year, and a range of activities went into full swing to cement their historic and traditional friendly relations," Uriminzokkiri quoted the newspaper as reporting.

   A key provider of economic aid to Pyongyang, China fought on North Korea's side against South Korea and the U.S.-led allied forces during the 1950-53 Korean War. The allies marked 60 years of diplomatic relations this year.
Rodong Sinmun cited an exchange of high-level visits as examples of improved bilateral ties. In March, North Korean Premier Kim Yong-il visited China, and Kim Jong-gak, first-vice director of the Korean People's Army General Political Bureau, made a trip to Beijing in mid-November.

   Wang Jiarui, head of the Chinese communist party's international department, visited Pyongyang in January, and Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie visited North Korea in late November.

   The newspaper further said, "Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Pyongyang was a crowning event for the bilateral friendship year, helping strengthen their relations further."

   In early October, Wen made a rare three-day visit to the North to celebrate the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties and promised large-scale economic aid to the impoverished North.