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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 95 (February 25, 2010)

Russia Prefers Status Quo over N. Korean Nuke to Instability: Scholar

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- Russia prefers the status quo in the North Korean nuclear issue to any contingency in the impoverished, nuclear armed socialist state that could destabilize the Russian Far East, a scholar said on Feb. 18.

   "A key issue is reconciling the sometimes conflicting stances of Russia and the United States regarding how best to realize their common goals," Richard Weitz, senior fellow and director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute, told a seminar at the Korea Economic Institute.

   "Perhaps the most fundamental difference is that, whereas most U.S. officials would accept some instability, including the DPRK's collapse and Korean reunification, to prevent the DPRK from becoming a nuclear weapons state, Russian policymakers generally would prefer the status quo to the disorder that would accompany regime change in the DPRK," Weitz said. DPRK stands for North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

   Russia and China, veto-wielding powers in the U.N. Security Council, joined forces in watering down the level of sanctions stipulated in U.N. resolutions adopted after the North's nuclear and missile tests.

   Weitz said that Russia's interest is in securing a prosperous Russian Far East through construction of oil and gas pipes and railways traversing North Korea to reach South Korea and Japan.

   "Russian policymakers may differ from their Chinese counterparts in that they generally would welcome Korea's peaceful reunification since it would reduce the risk of war in northeast Asia and facilitate the building of trans-Korean pipelines, railways and the other commercial arteries that would integrate the Russian Far East more deeply into the prosperous East Asian economic region," the scholar said.

   "So Russia and the United States can pursue parallel policies that could encourage the DPRK's long-term evolution into a less disruptive state while constraining its belligerent tendencies in the interim," he said.

   In case of a regime change in the North, Weitz predicted that Moscow will join forces with Beijing to move into North Korea to prevent U.S. forces from getting closer to their borders.


Carter Rejected Two-way Peace Talks with N. Korea: Document

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The United States assured South Korea in 1979 that Washington will refuse any talks with North Korea for a peace treaty on the Korean Peninsula without Seoul's participation as a full and equal member, a previously classified document released on Feb. 22 showed, amid a renewed North Korean demand for talks on formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War.

   In a "private" letter to then South Korean President Park Chung-hee, then U.S. President Jimmy Carter said the U.S. will also continue to assure North Korea that there will no bilateral talks with the socialist North.

   "The initial response of the North Koreans to our joint proposal was indeed disappointing, but they might show a more flexible attitude once they have fully assured themselves that we will not agree to meet separately," Carter said, referring to a proposal to North Korea for three-way talks with the South to replace the 1953 Korean armistice with a peace pact.

   Carter also noted that he had asked then U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim "to continue his efforts to bring about a dialogue between North Korean and your (South Korean) government, while making it clear to him that the United States will not agree to any manipulative formula for a separate meeting between ourselves and North Korea which does not include the Republic of Korea as a full and equal participant."

   The letter, dated Aug. 20, 1979, was made public Feb. 22, over 30 years after it was put in a secret folder of South Korea's foreign ministry, but has contemporary implications as Pyongyang is again demanding talks on formally ending the Korean War.

   North Korea last month said it will return to six-nation talks on ending its nuclear program if the "relevant countries" agreed to start discussing ways to replace the 1953 Korean armistice with a permanent peace treaty.

   The socialist nation has yet to clarify who the relevant countries are, but its ambassador to Beijing, Choe Jin-su, said in January that the group may only consist of the North, the U.S. and China.

   Both Seoul and Washington have refused to hold any talks on a peace treaty until after the nuclear negotiations are first resumed and North Korea makes significant progress toward denuclearization, but have also made clear they will refuse any such discussions that do not involve South Korea as a full participant.

   Carter's letter to the late former South Korean president was one of some 18,000 pages of diplomatic papers released Monday under the South Korean foreign ministry's declassification of documents that began in 1994.


Public Executions in N. Korea Possible 'Crime against Humanity'

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Public executions of political prisoners in North Korea could be seen as "crimes against humanity" in an international court of law, a senior judge at the international tribunal said on Feb. 22.

   "We have to review the crimes that occurred in North Korea to determine whether they were 'part of a widespread or systematic assault against general civilian populations,'" said Kwon O-gon, vice president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), during a meeting here hosted by the Korean Bar Association.

   While public executions carried out in the country's numerous prison camps can be seen as "murder," Kwon said, forced labor in the same camps could be deemed "enslavement" under international law.

   Kwon also warned that the imprisonment of civilian "law violators" without due process could also be categorized as a crime under the jurisdiction of the international tribunal.

   Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans are believed to be held in North Korea, which operates six prison camps nationwide, according to the South's National Human Rights Commission.

   North Korean delegates to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva acknowledged last December that the country does in fact carry out public executions, stating that they are reserved for "very brutal and violent crimes" and used only "in very exceptional cases."

   Kwon remained cautious over whether investigators can bring violations that are believed to have occurred in the North to the International Criminal Court (ICC), explaining that the ICC's authority is limited to its member nations, which means the communist state is not under its jurisdiction.

   The ICC, established in 2002, is a permanent independent judicial body based in the Hague that prosecutes individuals accused of the gravest possible crimes under international law -- genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.


U.S. Calls on N.K. to Return to Six-party Talks Before Discussing Other Issues

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States on Feb. 23 called on North Korea to return to the six-party talks on its denuclearization to discuss the lifting of sanctions and related issues.

   "We are willing to engage in broad discussions with North Korea inside the context of the six-party process on a full range of issues, as is every member of the six-party process," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said.

   Crowley was responding to the statement by the Chinese foreign ministry earlier in the day that it encourages bilateral dialogue between North Korea and the U.S.

   "I think we support that as well," Crowley said. "The key to getting to that point is for North Korea to come back to the six-party process, which they are struggling to do. I mean every country has its own bilateral issues with North Korea. That's the value of being part of the six-party process and that's why we encourage North Korea to come back to the six-party process. And the decision remains theirs and the ball remains in their court."

   The statement from Beijing comes amid reports that North Korea's chief nuclear envoy, Kim Kye-gwan, plans to visit New York next week to meet with Sung Kim, U.S. special envoy for the six-party talks, on the sidelines of an academic seminar.

   A State Department official, asking anonymity, said that there is "no change" in the U.S. position not to issue a visa to Kim Kye-gwan. The last high-level U.S. contact with North Korea was in December, when Stephen Bosworth, special representative for North Korea policy, flew to Pyongyang, a first for the Obama administration.

   Bosworth left Washington earlier in the day, accompanied by Sung Kim, to discuss reopening the six-party talks with officials from South Korea, China and Japan.

   Crowley said on Feb. 22 that Bosworth has no plans to meet with North Korean officials, nor to visit Pyongyang during his trip, which ends on Feb. 26.

   Kim will come back to attend a meeting here Friday between South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Crowley said. The meeting between Yu and Clinton will likely focus on ways to expedite the resumption of the six-party talks.

   Kim Kye-gwan visited Beijing this month to discuss the reopening of the six-party talks, a peace treaty to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War and removal of U.N. sanctions slapped on the North after its nuclear and missile tests early last year. The peace treaty and the removal of sanctions are preconditions set by Pyongyang for the resumption of the nuclear talks, held last in December 2008.


N. Korean Leader Anxious over Pending State Matters: Seoul Spy Chief

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has recently shown increasing signs of anxiety over "pending issues," Seoul's spy agency chief said on Feb. 23, as the socialist nation grapples with food shortages, prolonged economic problems and an international standoff over its nuclear programs.

   "(We) believe that he is expressing a lot of anxieties regarding resolving pending issues, such as lamenting for not being able to uplift the teachings" left by his late father, Won Se-hoon, head of the National Intelligence Service, was quoted as telling the parliament's intelligence committee, according to lawmakers that were present in the meeting.

   Won did not elaborate on the "pending issues."

   His remarks come amid a recent comment by Kim, reported by the North's state media, that the regime has failed to achieve sufficient living standards for its 24 million people, and that "white rice and meat soups" are still a long-cherished dream for the general populace.

   The North is seeking to push for an economic revival after it diverted resources to building nuclear arms and missiles and came under harsh international sanctions last year.

   The spy chief also said that Kim, who reportedly suffered a stroke in 2008, was "trying hard to appear healthy," by taking measures such as removing spots on his face.

   Won also reported that the North's leader has also recently shown signs of fretfulness and has become increasingly dependent on old friends or his family members, according to the lawmakers.

   Regarding the North's recent currency reform, Won said that the country is facing negative side-effects from the measure, such as disputes between authorities and the people.

   North Korea conducted a currency revaluation in November, knocking two zeros off its bank notes. The reform was aimed at curbing inflation but ultimately backfired, aggravating the situation, according to reports. Prices in North Korea have reportedly jumped more than 10-fold since the reform, causing widespread economic distress.