Obama Threatens Stronger Sanctions on N.K. over Nuclear Ambition
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Barack Obama called on North Korea and Iran on Jan. 27 to abandon their nuclear ambitions, warning of stronger sanctions if they continue to pursue atomic weapons in violation of international accords.
Obama made the remarks while speaking to millions of viewers in his first State of the Union address, which focused on his commitment to reforms on health care, economic stimulus measures, education and global warming.
"These diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of these weapons," Obama told the joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives. "That is why North Korea now faces increased isolation and stronger sanctions, sanctions that are being vigorously enforced."
The U.S. president was referring to the U.N. sanctions adopted by the Security Council after North Korea's nuclear and missile tests early last year.
North Korea has boycotted the six-party talks on its denuclearization, citing the sanctions, and recently said it will not return to the talks until the sanctions are lifted and a peace treaty is signed to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.
Washington has said it is open to a discussion of a peace treaty and lifting the sanctions, but insists that Pyongyang return to the talks before any other issues are addressed.
In an apparent bid to call attention to the peace treaty, North Korea has declared no-sail zones near the disputed Western sea border with South Korea and fired artillery rounds into the zones, the scene of bloody inter-Korean naval skirmishes on three occasions since 1999.
Obama aides and U.S. government officials have described the U.N. sanctions on North Korea as one of the major foreign policy achievements of the Obama administration, which was inaugurated last January.
"That is why the international community is more united, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is more isolated," Obama said. "And as Iran's leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt: They, too, will face growing consequences."
Ban's Envoy Due in Pyongyang on North Korean Nuke, Other Issues
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- A special envoy of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will visit North Korea in February, Ban's office said in a statement, amid conflicting signals on international engagement from the impoverished, nuclear armed communist state.
The four-day visit from Feb. 9 by Under-Secretary-General Lynn Pascoe comes as Pyongyang fired artillery rounds into the western sea border with South Korea in the past days and resisted international pressure to return to the six-party talks for its denuclearization.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said last week that he may be able to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il this year to discuss the nuclear issue and others, spawning speculation that talks are under way for a breakthrough in inter-Korean ties due to the economic plight the North has been suffering from international sanctions.
"Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe will visit the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK/ North Korea) from 9 to 12 February 2010 as a Special Envoy of the Secretary-General," the statement said. "Pascoe will discuss with DPRK officials all issues of mutual interest and concern in a comprehensive manner. He will also meet with the U.N. country team, and members of the diplomatic corps, and will visit several U.N. project sites."
Pascoe will also visit South Korea, China and Japan, the statement said.
The envoy's planned visit revives bilateral contact between the global body and Pyongyang, which has been severed since 2005 when Maurice Strong, then Secretary General Kofi Annan's special envoy for North Korea, resigned over his alleged role in a lobbying scandal involving the oil-for-food program in Iraq. Strong last visited Pyongyang in 2004.
Since taking office in January 2007, Ban, former South Korean foreign minister, has expressed his intention to visit Pyongyang to facilitate the six-party talks on ending the North's nuclear ambitions, providing humanitarian aid to the impoverished North and other issues.
A senior U.N. official, asking anonymity, said "The U.N. delegation's visit is meaningful as it resumes the high-level dialogue between the U.N. and North Korea which has been suspended for years."
"The delegation will meet with senior North Korean officials to discuss the North Korean nuclear issue, humanitarian aid and a variety of other issues," he said.
The U.N. team will also visit projects being undertaken by the U.N. Development Program, the World Food Program and other U.N. agencies, the official said.
North Korea cancelled a planned visit to Pyongyang by a U.N. delegation led by Pascoe last March amid rising tensions over North Korea's imminent rocket launch banned by U.N. resolutions.
N.K. Could Mount Nuke on Ballistic Missile within Decade: Pentagon
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea will achieve the necessary technology to mount a nuclear warhead onto a ballistic missile within a decade, a Pentagon report said on Feb. 1.
"Although the test launches of the TD-2 in 2006 and 2009 were deemed unsuccessful, we must assume that sooner or later North Korea will have a successful test of its TD-2 and, if there are no major changes in its national security strategy in the next decade, it will be able to mate a nuclear warhead to a proven delivery system," said the Ballistic Missile Defense Review, released by the Pentagon to assess the U.S. government's missile defense policy in the coming years.
North Korea launched a rocket last April in what it said was part of a peaceful space program to put a satellite into orbit. While the launch was deemed a failure by the international community, it invited strong U.N. condemnation and sanctions.
In response to the sanctions, Pyongyang detonated a nuclear device, the second of its kind after another blast in 2006, and has since boycotted the six-party talks on ending its nuclear weapons programs, demanding sanctions be lifted.
The review said that North Korea "successfully tested many technologies associated with an ICBM despite the most recent launch's failure in its stated mission of orbiting a small communications satellite." ICBM stands for intercontinental ballistic missile.
"North Korea, which has demonstrated its nuclear ambitions and continues to develop long-range missiles, is of particular concern," the review added. "Following the Taepodong-1 missile test in 1998, North Korea has conducted flight tests of the Taepodong-2 missile in 2006 and more recently in April 2009."
The North's first ballistic missile was launched in the summer of 1998 over skies above Japan before falling into waters off Alaska, shocking both the Japanese and American administrations and public.
The incident prompted then U.S. President Bill Clinton to send Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Pyongyang, the highest ranking U.S. official ever to visit the reclusive communist state, to discuss with its reclusive leader Kim Jong-il dismantlement of the North's long-range missile programs as well as its nuclear weapons programs.
North Korean Vice Marshal Jo Myong-rok reciprocated by visiting Washington in the waning months of Clinton's tenure in late 2000. Clinton accepted Jo's proposal for a Pyongyang visit to conclude the nuclear and missile talks, but did not honor the pledge, citing a lack of time.
U.S. Won't Accept North Korea as Nuclear Weapons State: Blair
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States on Feb. 2 said it will not accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state, although it is seeking that status through demonstration of its nuclear and missile capabilities.
"We judge Kim Jong-il seeks recognition of North Korea as a nuclear weapons power by the U.S. and the international community," Dennis Blair, director of National Intelligence, told a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing.
"Pyongyang's intent in pursuing dialogue at time is to take advantage of what it perceives as an enhanced negotiating position, having demonstrated its nuclear and missile capabilities."
North Korea has boycotted the six-party talks on ending its nuclear ambitions citing U.N. sanctions for its nuclear and missile tests early last year, but recently reached out to the U.S. and South Korea, hinting at the possibility of returning to the nuclear talks.
Pyongyang, however, demanded that sanctions be lifted and a peace treaty be signed to replace an armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.
North Korea's second nuclear test in May last year is widely seen as having demonstrated its nuclear capability unlike one in 2006, which is seen as a partial failure.
"We judge North Korea has tested two nuclear devices, and while we do not know whether the North has produced nuclear weapons, we assess that it has the capability to do so," Blair said. "It remains our policy that we will not accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state, and we assess that other countries in the region remain committed to the denuclearization of North Korea as has been reflected in the six-party talks."
The chief U.S. intelligence officer said that "The North's October 2006 nuclear test was consistent with our long-standing assessment that it had produced a nuclear device, although we judge the test itself to have been a partial failure based on its less-than-one-kiloton TNT equivalent yield."
On the second nuclear test, Blair said, it "supports its claim that it has been seeking to develop weapons, and with a yield of roughly a few kilotons TNT equivalent, was apparently more successful than the 2006 test."
Turning to the North's claim that it has "entered the final stage" of enriching uranium as an another way to produce nuclear weapons than the plutonium produced in its only operating reactor in Yongbyon, north of its capital Pyongyang, Blair said, "The intelligence community continues to assess with high confidence North Korea has pursued a uranium enrichment capability in the past, which we assess was for weapons."
He also said that the North's poor conventional weapons capability led Pyongyang to resort to the nuclear weapons.
U.S. Earmarks $2.5 Mln for Possible Aid to North Korea
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The U.S. government has earmarked US$2.5 million in preparation for humanitarian aid to North Korea for the fiscal year starting in October, according to the draft budget presented to Congress on Feb. 1.
The figure compares with the $3.5 million set aside for this year.
Congress last year slashed $95 million in this year's budget for energy aid to North Korea and other expenses for its denuclearization under the six-party process as the multilateral talks faltered.
The Obama administration last year asked for US$176.5 million in this year's budget for North Korea's denuclearization.
The U.S. is obligated to provide 200,000 tons of heavy fuel oil to North Korea, as well as some funding for disabling Pyongyang's nuclear facilities in the second phase of a six-party deal.
The third and final phase calls for the dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear programs and facilities in return for hefty economic and political benefits from the five other parties, South Korea, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan.
But North Korea has boycotted the six-party talks in anger over U.N. sanctions for its nuclear and missile tests early last year, demanding sanctions be lifted before the talks reopen.
The U.S. wants the North to return to the talks first to discuss denuclearization and any other issues, including sanctions and a peace treaty to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.
U.S. congressional reports have estimated the dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear facilities would cost up to $575 million over the next several years.
The Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2008 enables the U.S. government to finance the dismantling of North Korea's nuclear facilities through 2013, overriding the Glenn Amendment, which banned any financial aid to states that have conducted a nuclear test. North Korea has conducted two.
The U.S. spent $25 million on North Korea in 2008.
Campbell says too Early to Discuss Lifting N. Korea Sanctions
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Kurt Campbell, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said on Feb. 2 it is too early to discuss removal of U.N. sanctions on North Korea, especially amid the communist nation's provocative actions, such as its recent firing of artillery.
The U.S. diplomat also said it is "too early to tell" if there will be any additional talks between his country and Pyongyang for the resumption of six-party negotiations on ending North Korea's nuclear ambition.
"I think our belief is that it's going to be very important for North Korea to come back to the six-party talks to abide by its commitments made in 2005 and 2007, and then within that context, the United States is prepared to work with partners in Japan, South Korea and China in terms of next steps," Campbell told reporters shortly after arriving in Seoul from Japan on a three-day visit.
North Korea agreed in six-party accords signed in 2005 and 2007 to give up its nuclear ambitions in exchange for political and economic concessions, but said in April last year that it would permanently quit the nuclear negotiations.
Pyongyang said last month that it may return to the six-party negotiations that also involve South Korea, the U.S., Japan, China and Russia, but only if the sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council are first removed.
The U.S. assistant secretary of state noted the North is making it harder for the countries to discuss the possible removal of sanctions with its recent firing of artillery near a disputed border in the Yellow Sea.
"It is too early to be talking about sanctions relief given that we haven't had a resumption of talks and, in fact, in recent days we have seen provocative actions with artillery firing and the like, so I think that's one of the things we want to do while we are here in Seoul -- to communicate closely and coordinate with our partners here," he said.
Campbell said one of key purposes of his trip to Seoul is to coordinate the next steps for the six-party talks, which were last held in December 2008.
"I think we would very much like to make sure the United States and South Korea are as close as possible on all issues associated with the six-party engagement, our mutual strategy toward North Korea," he told reporters.
Other agenda items to be discussed with his South Korean counterparts include ways to move forward with the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, which was signed in 2007, and Seoul's commitment to the international community, seen in its recent decisions to send troops to Afghanistan and earthquake-hit Haiti, Campbell said.
"I think our relationship is on a very positive trajectory, and I am just here to support that process," he said.
The U.S. assistant secretary is set to hold talks with South Korea's Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Yong-joon on Wednesday, following his meeting with the top presidential adviser on security issues, Kim Sung-hwan, according to officials at the South Korean foreign ministry.
He will head home on Feb. 4 after meeting with Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan and also Seoul's point man on North Korea, Unification Minister Hyun In-taek.