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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 103 (April 22, 2010)

S. Korean Ship Sinking May Affect Six-party Talks Revival: State Dept.

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The sinking of a South Korean naval ship in waters near the disputed sea border with the North may undermine international efforts to revive the six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear dismantlement, the State Department said April 15.

   "We are looking to see what North Korea's prepared to do, but obviously North Korea's behavior in the region has an impact in terms of creating the atmosphere for the six-party process to move forward," spokesman Philip Crowley said.

   Earlier in the day, South Korea lifted the stern of the 1,200-ton ship and retrieved scores of dead bodies. An unexplained explosion ripped the ship into two pieces late last month.

   South Korea has not yet determined the cause of the sinking, but Defense Minister Kim Tae-young has said that a North Korean torpedo attack remains a possibility. The North Korean maritime border has been the scene of three bloody inter-Korean naval skirmishes over the past decade, leaving 38 sailors dead and eight others missing.

   South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has vowed his government will "respond in a firm manner" in the event of North Korea's involvement, muddying prospects for the restart of the nuclear talks. The six-nation negotiations have been stalled since early last year, when the United Nations imposed sanctions on the North for its nuclear and missile tests.

   The U.S. has joined a team of several countries to salvage the vessel and determine the cause of the sinking.

   "We are cooperating with South Korea in terms of the investigation of the tragic sinking of that ship," Crowley said. "Everyone wants to know what happened. We have no information at this point that there was particular action external to that ship. That's why it's being investigated."

   Another State Department official, asking anonymity, would not link the ship's sinking and the nuclear talks.

   "Let's not jump to conclusions here," the official said. "I wouldn't necessarily link them together. But obviously certain results could have a profound effect."

   Crowley said that Washington is maintaining close cooperation with South Korea and other parties to the nuclear talks -- China, Japan and Russia.

   "We would begin six-party talks in concert with our partners, but the first step is what North Korea has to do," he said.


U.S. Skeptical of Reports on N.K.'s Preparations for 3rd Nuclear Test

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States on April 20 dismissed reports that North Korea is preparing for another nuclear test apparently to raise the stakes in future negotiations for its nuclear dismantlement.

   "We're skeptical of that report," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said. "But obviously it's an area that we watch intensively. And we will keep watching for evidence of any provocative activity. But I would be skeptical of that report."

   South Korean media have reported the North's possible preparations for the third nuclear test, after one each in 2006 and 2009, even though South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan has denied any supporting information.

   The reports come during a lull in the six-party talks on ending the North's nuclear weapons programs due to U.N. sanctions for Pyongyang's nuclear and missile tests last year.

   Pyongyang has called for an end to the sanctions and for talks toward a peace treaty before it rejoins the multilateral forum. Washington insists Pyongyang come back to the table first.

   The U.S. this month renounced for the first time the use of nuclear weapons against nonnuclear weapons states that are in compliance with international nonproliferation obligations, but left open the possibility of a nuclear strike on North Korea and Iran.

   North Korea responded by threatening to bolster its nuclear weapons and modernize them as a deterrent, saying that the Obama administration's new policy has soured the atmosphere for the resumption of the six-nation negotiations.


North Korea Poses Major Missile Threat to U.S.: Pentagon

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea and Iran pose a major missile threat to the United States with their push to develop long-range missiles that can reach the continental U.S., a senior U.S. official said on April 20.

   "The threat to the U.S. homeland from states like North Korea and Iran continues to develop," James Miller, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. "Neither has yet acquired ICBMs that could reach the United States, but both are working to acquire and/or develop long-range ballistic missile capabilities, including space-launched vehicles, which include many of the necessary technologies. ICBM stands for intercontinental ballistic missile.

   North Korea's first ballistic missile was launched in the summer of 1998 in the skies over Japan before falling into waters off Alaska, shocking both the Japanese and Americans.

   Pyongyang has since launched several long-range missiles, most recently in April last year, which the North claimed 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. sanctions.

   In response to the sanctions, Pyongyang detonated a nuclear device, the second of its kind after another blast in 2006, and boycotted the six-party talks on ending its nuclear weapons programs, demanding the sanctions be lifted.

   Miller expressed concerns about the North's missile capability.

   "Both Iran and North Korea present a significant regional missile threat," he said. "The ballistic missile threat today is increasing both quantitatively and qualitatively and is likely to continue to do so over the next decade. Several states are also developing nuclear, chemical and/or biological warheads for their missiles."

   The official's remarks are in line with the Ballistic Missile Defense Review 2010 report released by the Pentagon in February to assess the U.S. government's missile defense policy in the coming years.

   The report 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."

   The report also said, "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."

   U.S. missile defense focuses on North Korea and Iran rather than on Russia or China, Miller said.

   "The top priority for U.S. missile defense efforts is to defend the United States from the threat of missile attack by regional actors such as North Korea or Iran," he said. "The United States does not intend for missile defense to affect the strategic balance with Russia or China."

   "Through our missile defense programs, the United States seeks to dissuade states such as North Korea or Iran from developing an ICBM, and, failing this, to deter them from using it, or if necessary, to defeat their attacks," the official said.


Two North Korean Spies Arrested in Seoul

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Two North Korean spies have been arrested while plotting to murder a high-ranking North Korean defector, the prosecution here said on April 20.

   The North Koreans -- only identified by their family names Kim and Tong -- are accused of attempting to assassinate Hwang Jang-yop, a former secretary of the North's ruling Workers' Party and chairman of the Supreme People's Assembly, under the order of the spy agency belonging to the North's Ministry of People's Armed Forces, the Seoul Central District Prosecution said.

   Hwang defected to South Korea in 1997, and has been under constant threat of his life as he has persistently campaigned for the collapse of the Kim Joing-il regime. In the latest threat, Uriminzokkiri, the official Web site of a North Korean reunification organ, said early this month the 88-year-old is "an ugly traitor" and warned he "will never be safe."

   The North Korean spies secretly entered Thailand via the Chinese city of Yanji last December with an order to kill Hwang while disguising themselves as defectors. Later, they were forcibly sent to South Korea, according to the prosecution.

   The North Koreans both entered the Workers' Party in 1998 and were trained as spies since 2004, the prosecution said.


FM Says Seoul Has Means to Deal with North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea has military capabilities to counter attacks by North Korea, Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said on April 21, amid growing suspicions over the socialist nation's possible involvement in the sinking of a South Korean warship last month.

   "I cannot publicly discuss such advanced tactics or related capabilities. I will only say we do have our own means to counter North Korea at an adequate level," the minister said at a breakfast meeting with officials at a private think tank, the Dosan Academy.

   The 1,200-ton patrol ship Cheonan sank near the tense border with North Korea in the Yellow Sea on March 26, leaving 38 crew members of the ship confirmed dead and eight others missing. Suspicions of North Korea's role in the incident grew after investigators said an external blast likely caused the sinking.

   On April 20, the foreign minister said the government was reviewing "all options" should Pyongyang be found to have been involved in the Cheonan's sinking.

   Yu, however, reiterated Wednesday it is inappropriate to discuss next steps based on a preliminary investigation.

   "I believe it will be best (for the people) to trust the government and calmly wait until the exact cause is revealed," he told the meeting.

   The minister also urged the North to give up its nuclear ambitions, saying the opportunity to do so was limited.

   "I believe South Korea's hosting of a nuclear security summit is a message of warning for North Korea. I believe it was meant to give North Korea its last chance to give up its nukes before 2012," Yu said, referring to the year when Seoul is set to host the second round of the nuclear summit that brought together the leaders of 47 countries earlier this month in Washington.

   North Korea agreed in principle to give up its nuclear programs under a six-way accord signed in September 2005, but has been boycotting related negotiations since late 2008.

   The socialist nation demands the removal of U.N. sanctions and the start of discussions for a peace treaty on the Korean Peninsula before its return to the nuclear talks.

   Minister Yu said Tuesday the six-party talks will not be resumed if North Korea is found to be responsible for the Cheonan's sinking. "We must make North Korea pay a price for its action," he said.