Obama Rules Out Relisting N. Korea as State Sponsor of Terrorism
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Barack Obama said on Feb. 3 that his administration will not relist North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.
"Pursuant to Section 1255 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, and in order to keep the Congress fully informed, I am providing a classified report prepared by my administration," Obama said in a letter to the House speaker and the president of the Senate, released by the White House.
"This report includes information on our examination of the conduct of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea from June 26, 2008, through November 16, 2009, and concludes that the DPRK (North Korea) does not meet the statutory criteria to again be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism," he said.
The letter comes amid conciliatory gestures by North Korea, which has been boycotting the six-party talks on ending its nuclear weapons programs due to U.N. sanctions for its nuclear and missile tests early last year.
Obama in October signed a defense authorization bill that calls for the administration to submit a report to Congress on whether to relist North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.
The act, authorizing the implementation of US$680 billion in the defense budget for this year, called for the Obama administration to "submit to Congress a detailed report examining the conduct of the Government of North Korea since June 26, 2008, based on all available information to determine whether North Korea meets the statutory criteria for listing as a state sponsor of terrorism."
The State Department has said that it was reviewing whether to relist North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism in connection with North Korea's alleged proliferation of missile and nuclear technology in recent months.
Experts say the North's nuclear and ballistic missile tests do not constitute terrorist acts and thus do not meet the requirement for relisting the North.
The previous Bush administration removed North Korea from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism in October 2008, hoping that the step might prompt progress in the six-party talks on North Korea's denuclearization.
North Korea was first put on the terrorism list soon after it downed a South Korean airplane over Myanmar in 1987, killing all 115 passengers.
N. Korea Should Improve Human Rights for Better Ties with U.S.
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea should improve its human rights conditions if it wants significant progress in building better relations with the United States, Washington's special envoy on the issue said on Feb. 4.
"Respect for human rights by the DPRK (North Korea) will have a significant impact on the prospect for closer ties with the United States," Robert King, special envoy for North Korea human rights issues, said in a statement released at a forum in Seoul.
North Korea has been labeled as one of the worst human rights violators in the world.
The totalitarian regime tolerates no dissent and restricts outside information. It operates a number of political prison camps, punishing those who try to flee the country to escape hunger and oppression while diverting its scarce resources into developing nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction.
Efforts by the isolated state to redress such behavior "will be necessary for North Korea to fully participate in the international community," King said in the statement, which was read by an aide as he was unable to attend the forum jointly organized by the National Endowment for Democracy and a South Korean think tank.
Calling on participants to unite in pushing Pyongyang to improve its behavior, King said he will continue to work "to increase the flow of information into North Korea, to promote human rights and the rule of law and to plant the seeds of civil society."
"The challenge of improving human rights conditions for the North Korean people requires that we all work together," he said.
In an apparent effort to pave the ground for an economic revival and a transfer of power to a new leader, North Korea has called for an end to hostilities with the U.S. this year, proposing talks on a formal peace treaty to replace the truce that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.
U.S. to Mobilize More Troops in Case of N. Korean Contingency
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States will mobilize additional forces to send to South Korea in case of a North Korean regime collapse or other contingency, senior defense officials said on Feb. 4.
But the initial response would be naval and air forces, not ground troops, the officials told a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.
"In the near term, the demand on the force is such that there's significant stress," said Vice Adm. Stephen Stanley, director for force structure, resources and assessment at the Joint Staff. "So another operation in the near term the size of a Korea would require the nation to mobilize."
Stanley was referring to America's heavy commitment to Iraq and Afghanistan, which would make it difficult for the U.S. to redeploy its troops to Korea or any other potential conflict regions.
Michele Flournoy, defense undersecretary for policy, buttressed Stanley's comments, saying at the initial stage of any conflict on the Korean Peninsula, "A lot of the U.S. contribution would be heavy air and naval-intensive."
Ground troops would come later, she said.
"Do we put boots on the ground in Korea? Yes," Flournoy said.
Their remarks are in line with those of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said Wednesday additional U.S. ground forces will not be able to arrive in South Korea in time in case of an emergency in North Korea "because of the commitments that we have in Iraq and Afghanistan."
"Certainly initially we would be especially dependent on the Navy and the Air Force," Gates said.
The U.S., however, will be able to send extra ground troops to South Korea in time after the completion of the proposed drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq in 2011, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said.
The U.S. maintains 28,500 troops in Korea as a deterrent against North Korea.
N. Korean Currency Reform Reported to Have Failed, Official Sacked
SEOUL, Feb. 4 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's currency reform carried out last year appears to have failed, and the official who led the reform may have been fired, North Korea watchers said on Feb. 4.
Pak Nam-gi, chief of the planning and finance department of the ruling Workers' Party who oversaw the currency reform, was blamed for the sharp inflation and social chaos that followed the reform and may have been fired from his post, according to North Korea watchers in Dandong, China, a city near the border with North Korea.
But considering the closed and secretive system of North Korea, it is too early to conclude that he has been dismissed for certain, they said.
The official has not appeared in North Korean media reports, as monitored by Yonhap News Agency in Seoul, since early January. He was last seen in North Korean media when he attended the workers' rally of the Kimchaek Steel Company in North Hamgyong Province on January 9.
North Korea carried out a fundamental currency revaluation last November in a bid to curb inflation and reportedly ensure a power transition from the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, to his third and youngest son, Jong-un.
Pyongyang said the currency reform, which knocked two zeros off its bank notes, was aimed at curbing inflation, while analysts said the regime was trying to emasculate a growing merchant class and reassert control over market activities.
In late January, North Korea asserted that the currency reform was a success.
On Jan. 23, Kim Chol-jun, chief economist at North Korea's Academy of Social Sciences, said the reform, conducted in November helped "implement socialist economic principles better and create a monetary base that can bring about a leap in the standard of living for people."
In an interview with Choson Sinbo, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper in Tokyo, he said that his communist country secured a monetary base that will underpin efforts to raise living standards when it carried out the currency reform last year.
However, North Korea watchers in Seoul say the currency reform has turned out to be a disaster.
Food Shortage Worsens in North Korea: Official
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's food shortage is expected to further worsen this year, as the communist state's grain output in 2009 is believed to have fallen from the previous year, a government official in Seoul said on Feb. 10.
The North is estimated to have produced 4.1 million tons of grain last year, a drop of about 200,000 tons compared to 2008, the Unification Ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
The amount falls about 1.3 million tons short of what the impoverished country needs this year to feed its 24 million people, the official said. The North produced 4.3 million tons in 2008.
The estimate is based on a simulation led by the Rural Development Administration, which analyzed initial production figures released by the North and data obtained from other sources on the climate and soil conditions last year, the official said.
Experts say the suspension of fertilizer aid from the South amid deteriorating inter-Korean ties may have aggravated the production and that weather conditions have proved unfavorable for the North.
North Korea, one of the world's poorest countries, has relied on international handouts to feed its population since a massive famine killed an estimated 2 million people in the mid-1990s.
The country produced 1.9 million tons of rice in 2008, compared to 4.8 million tons in the South.