Chinese Envoy in Seoul Urges Talks between Two Koreas
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- China's top envoy to South Korea called on both South and North Korea on April 22 to engage in dialogue as "brothers" for peace on the peninsula as suspicions grow in Seoul that its communist neighbor may be involved in the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship.
Describing the ship's sinking as an "unfortunate" incident, Amb. Zhang Xinsen stressed that maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula "will best serve the interest of every related country."
Zhang, a former ambassador to Ireland, arrived in Seoul earlier April, shortly after the 1,200-ton Cheonan sank near the tense border with North Korea in the Yellow Sea on March 26.
Investigators have said an external explosion likely caused the patrol ship to go down, prompting suspicions of a possible attack by Pyongyang. Fourty of the ship's 104 crew have been confirmed dead while six others are also presumed dead as they remain missing.
North Korea on April 17 denied any involvement and accused the Seoul government of fabricating groundless allegations to evade its own responsibility.
Zhang said China has expressed its condolences over the tragic incident to South Korea through various channels, dismissing suspicions here that the reason Beijing had not done so was because it had knowledge of Pyongyang's involvement.
"There needs to be more dialogue between South and North Korea as brothers to maintain peace on the Korean Peninsula. Both South Korea and North Korea are friends to China and we, China, hope the two sides can resolve many issues they face now through more dialogue and negotiations," he said.
The Chinese diplomat said Seoul must engage Pyongyang in talks to bring the latter back to the six-way negotiations on ending its nuclear ambition.
China is "trying continuously to resume the six-party talks, and at the same time we believe all parties must take a more positive stance," Zhang said. "We hope our South Korean friends and our U.S. friends will take a greater role in the process."
North Korea has stayed away from the nuclear talks since December 2008 and says it will not return unless U.N. sanctions are removed and discussions begin for a peace treaty that will officially end the 1950-53 Korean War.
The envoy said it "should be no surprise" if North Korean leader Kim Jong-il visits China as long speculated, but added he does not know when that would happen.
Ship Sinking to Delay S. Korea's Retaking of Wartime OPCON
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The sinking of a South Korean warship in waters near the disputed border with North Korea will prompt South Korea to consider delaying the schedule for retaking of wartime command and control of its troops from the U.S., a scholar predicted on April 22.
"This act, Kim Jong-il's stroke, and the May 2009 second North Korean nuclear test provide enough justification for Seoul and Washington to reconsider the 2012 timetable for transfer of wartime OPCON," Victor Cha, Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said on the CSIS Web site.
Cha was discussing the implications of the sinking of the 1,200-ton Cheonan, which sank near the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea late last month, killing 39 South Korean sailors and leaving seven others missing.
Many South Korean officials believe a North Korean torpedo attack caused the sinking, although the official investigation is incomplete.
Seoul officials denied reports said that South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and President Barack Obama agreed in principle to delay the transfer of the wartime operational control (OPCON), scheduled for April 2012, when they met here last week for the inaugural nuclear security summit.
A White House official, asking anonymity, said, "We do not comment on details of conversations between leaders."
Conservatives from both Seoul and Washington have called for a delay, fearing a possible gap in the joint defense of South Korea after North Korea detonated its second nuclear device and continued testing medium- and long-range missiles last year.
The wartime OPCON transition agreement was made in 2007 under former liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, who sought a greater role for South Korea in maintaining its own defense. Peacetime control of South Korean forces was returned in 1994.
The U.S. currently maintains 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the Korean War, in which the U.S. fought alongside South Korea against invading North Korean troops aided by China.
Cha said, "A North Korean perpetrated act would highlight the substantially changed security conditions surrounding the peninsula since 2007 when the United States and South Korea negotiated transfer of wartime operational control."
South Korea and the U.S. have limited options if North Korea is found to have been behind the ship sinking, the scholar said.
"A proportionate military retaliation by the South risks escalation and therefore does not appear likely," he said.
Clinton Warns N. Korea against Provocations Leading to Conflict
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on April 23 warned North Korea against any provocations or miscalculation that could lead to conflict on the Korean Peninsula amid rising tensions after the sinking of a South Korean warship last month.
"I hope that there is no talk of war, there is no action or miscalculation that could provoke a response that might lead to conflict," Clinton said at a NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Tallinn, Estonia, according to a transcript released by the State Department. "That's not in anyone's interest."
In a news conference, she was responding to a question about North Korea's seizing of South Korean assets in a mountain resort in North Korea and threats of a war that cited South Korea's efforts to link the sinking to North Korea.
North Korea has denied any involvement, but South Korean officials have hinted a North Korean torpedo attack might have destroyed the 1,200-ton Cheonan, killing 39 sailors and leaving seven others missing. The Seoul government has not yet officially determined the exact cause.
The U.S. has sent more than 10 military and civilian experts to join a multinational team to investigate the cause. Other countries include Britain, Australia and Sweden.
Clinton called on North Korea to return to the six-party talks to discuss its denuclearization.
"Our position is very clear," she said. "We have said time and time again that the North Koreans should not engage in provocative actions and that they should return to the six-party talks, where we and our partners in those talks are prepared to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and then other matters that may be of concern to any one of the parties, including North Korea."
Pyongyang demands the U.N. lift sanctions imposed after its nuclear and missile tests early last year, and start negotiations for a peace treaty before its returns to the multilateral nuclear talks. Washington wants Pyongyang to come back to the nuclear talks first.
Stephen Bosworth, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, said he is still optimistic on the reopening of the nuclear talks, which have been on and off since they were launched in 2003.
"As we look ahead today, we of course face a set of uncertainties in the short-term as we await the results of the investigation of the sinking of the South Korean naval vessel," Bosworth told a seminar in New York. "But looking beyond that I think that there is reason to believe that multilateral engagement remains the essential condition for making progress on greater stability, denuclearization, peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsula."
North Korea's No. 2 Leader to Attend Shanghai Expo: Source
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's No. 2 leader Kim Yong-nam will likely attend the opening ceremony of the Shanghai World Expo in China this week, which will also be attended by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, informed sources said on April 26.
As the president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, Kim is the North's titular head of state and frequently attends state and diplomatic functions in the communist state and abroad.
"Kim Yong-nam will likely arrive in Shanghai with a North Korean delegation around April 30 to attend the official opening ceremony that will be attended by many heads of state, including President Lee Myung-bak," a diplomatic source in Beijing told Yonhap News Agency.
Officials in Seoul noted such a trip is highly possible as the North, too, has set up a large exhibition pavilion at the Expo.
"The list of heads of state to attend the opening ceremony that was released by China did not include Kim Yong-nam's name, but it is still possible (for Kim to visit) as China said leaders of several other states will also attend the ceremony," a foreign ministry official said, asking not to be identified.
The South Korean president and the North Korean official were last brought together at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Both Lee and Kim, if the latter's visit to Shanghai is realized, will likely attend a welcome dinner to be hosted by Chinese President Hu Jintao, the source in Beijing said.
South Korea's presidential office announced on April 25 that Lee will make a two-day visit to Shanghai, starting on April 30, to hold a summit with Chinese President Hu and attend the opening ceremony of the 2010 World Expo.
On April 30 evening, Lee will attend a welcome dinner and the opening ceremony of the World Expo, which runs from May 1 to Oct. 31 with the participation of 192 countries and 52 international organizations, the office said.
Lee will also visit the South Korean and Chinese pavilions at the World Expo on Saturday before meeting with South Korean residents living in the Chinese city on Saturday afternoon, it added.
Qadhafi Dismisses Int'l Calls for Pressure on N.K. Nuke Dismantlement
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- Libyan President Muammar Qadhafi on April 26 dismissed calls for his government to pressure North Korea and Iran to quit their nuclear weapons programs, saying Tripoli has not yet been rewarded enough for its nuclear weapons abandonment.
"This was raised several times from America, Europe, that we approach the Iranians, the North Koreans, that they do not follow this course, the course of nuclear armament," Qadhafi told a National Press Club forum here through video conference from Libya. "The problem is that Libya has not been compensated for its good deed. Therefore, the Libyan example is not attractive to them because Libya has not made any big gain, for example, using the nuclear energy for peaceful purposes."
The Libyan president has often denounced the U.S. for its failure to provide enough economic assistance in return for the abandonment of its nuclear weapons program in 2003, despite improved ties with the U.S. and its western allies.
"Maybe we need help from America, from Europe, to come and help us harness the nuclear power, the atomic power for peaceful purposes so that we no longer make nuclear arms, but we make nuclear plants for generating electricity, other peaceful uses," he said. "If other countries see that Europe and the United States come to Libya and help us with that, they will see, okay, Libya is gaining from its position."
Qadhafi also complained about President Barack Obama not inviting him to the Nuclear Security Summit here earlier this month. Obama invited 46 global leaders to the forum.
"We were not even invited to the nuclear security conference," he said. "So we really don't have much of a strong argument that we can use with Iran or North Korea and say to them, 'Look, you should avoid this dangerous path,' even though we are in principle against that. But we would like to convince them not to."
'North Korea Freedom Week' Opens for Human Rights in the North
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A U.S. human rights organization kicked off an international event in Seoul on April 25 as part of efforts to promote the freedom, human rights and dignity of the North Korean people.
The week-long event, dubbed North Korea Freedom Week (NKFW), features exhibits, a major rally, seminars, press conferences, prayer vigils and other events all focused on highlighting the misery the Kim Jong-il regime has inflicted on the people of North Korea.
The North Korea Freedom Coalition, an association of U.S. civic groups working for improvement of human rights in the North, has annually held the event in Washington. It is the first time that the event has ever been held in Seoul.
NKFW 2010 began with a prayer service hosted by North Korean defector churches and the North Korea Genocide Exhibit, and will conclude with a balloon launch from the demilitarized zone, which will include radios, money, and a special message about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Special events also deal with the North Korean gulag, the trafficking of North Korean women, abductions of South Korean and Japanese citizens, and other topics.
"Because of the increasing despair inside North Korea caused by the currency devaluation, it is more important than ever that we stand up for the North Korean people and fight for their freedom, human rights, and dignity," Suzanne Scholte, chairwoman of the coalition, said in an opening statement.
""We are very proud that so many defectors, who have been part of the North Korea Freedom Week delegations each year, are now taking the lead in sponsoring events throughout the week, and we are deeply grateful to the South Korean NGOs and leaders who are also organizing events," she added.
In interview with Yonhap News Agency on April 26, Scholte said human rights are the most important thing when considering North Korean issues and hoped that many South Korean citizens, especially students and youths, attend the event.
Scholte has been committed to publicizing the dire human rights conditions of the communist country, organizing the first U.S. Senate hearing on the North's political prison camps a decade ago and playing a key role in passing the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 in the U.S. Congress.
Scholte, head of the non-profit Defense Forum Foundation, was awarded the Seoul Peace Prize in October 2008 for her efforts to improve North Korean people's human rights by attracting international attention to the issue.
In a speech marking the official opening of the event on April 26, Je Sung-ho, South Korea's envoy for human rights, said that the Lee Myung-bak administration has a will to make efforts to improve human rights conditions in the North.
"The Lee administration believes that human rights in North Korea is an important and serious issue," said Je, a law professor at ChungAng University in Seoul. "For the past decade, the issue of North Korean human rights has taken a backseat to inter-Korean rapprochement."