South Korea Says North Korea's Stance on Nuclear Talks Unchanged
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea does not see North Korea as having changed its position on returning to the six-nation nuclear talks even after its leader Kim Jong-il's trip to China, a ranking official here said on May 7.
"The government believes North Korea's position on the resumption of the six-party talks has not changed by any considerable degree," the official from Seoul's foreign ministry told reporters, asking not to be identified.
The North Korean leader's visit to China, which began on May 3, had been expected to signal his country's return to the nuclear negotiations in exchange for economic assistance from China, the host of the talks.
A report by China's official Xinhua News Agency quoted Kim as telling Chinese President Hu Jintao that his country remains committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and that it will "work with China to create favorable conditions for restarting the six-party talks."
Seoul's foreign ministry official said "favorable conditions" apparently refers to Pyongyang's earlier demands for the removal of U.N. sanctions, which were imposed last year after the North's missile and nuclear tests, and the start of discussions with the United States for a peace treaty on the Korean Peninsula.
"The Xinhua report suggests the North did not declare its return to the six-party talks," the official said.
Seoul has long insisted on the North's unconditional return to the negotiations.
The situation changed, however, in March after the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, in which 40 sailors were killed. Six others are still missing and presumed dead.
North Korea is the main suspect in the disaster that occurred near the inter-Korean maritime border where the two sides have clashed in three bloody skirmishes in the past. Military investigators said this week an explosive substance was found in the salvaged wreckage of the ship, adding to suspicions that the Cheonan was struck by a torpedo.
"If North Korea is clearly found to have been involved, I think it will not be easy to hold the six-party talks for some time because we must make North Korea pay a price for its actions," South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan had said.
The six-party talks, held among South and North Korea, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan, were held last in December 2008.
N. Korea Allows Chinese Investors to Tour Joint Factory Park with S. Korea
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea invited a group of Chinese investors to its joint factory park with South Korea early this month, raising suspicions about its intent amid strained inter-Korean relations, an official in Seoul said on May 11.
About 20 business executives, led by senior officials of North Korea's state investment group, visited the industrial complex in the border town of Kaesong near the west coast on May 1, a Unification Ministry official in Seoul said.
"We're not clear about what the North is trying to achieve by inviting the Chinese investors," the Unification Ministry official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
The official said the investors visited two companies in the factory park and asked general questions about their operations while being escorted by North Korean authorities.
Under an agreement with South Korea, North Korea is allowed to draw investors from other countries. The visit comes after North Korea either seized or froze South Korean assets at a joint mountain resort on its east coast last month.
On April 9, North Korea said it would also "entirely review" the Kaesong venture with South Korea if relations between the two sides do not improve.
Ties between the Koreas, which technically remain at war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, have further frayed in recent weeks amid suspicions Pyongyang was behind the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship off the west coast in March.
North Korea denies any involvement and has vowed to respond with an unspecified war deterrent if South Korea brands Pyongyang as the culprit and retaliates, raising tension on the peninsula.
China is North Korea's main political and economic ally. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il visited Beijing last week to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and agreed to bolster economic exchanges.
More than 110 South Korean firms operate there to produce labor-intensive goods by employing 42,000 skilled North Korean workers at low wages. The joint park, which began operating in 2004, is considered the last remaining major symbol of reconciliation between the divided Koreas.
Talks on Broadcasting World Cup to North Korea in Limbo: Broadcaster
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A South Korean broadcaster said May 11 its talks with North Korea to broadcast the socialist state's World Cup matches to Pyongyang have hit a snag amid strained inter-Korean relations.
"We had planned to move forward with the talks in earnest in April and May, but they didn't progress amid strained inter-Korean ties," SBS said in a release.
The Seoul-based television station cited a suspected deadly North Korean attack on a South Korean warship off the west coast in March, among other factors.
It did not comment on reports that North Korea is demanding cash for covering cheering crowds in the capital, Pyongyang, during the World Cup, set to begin in South Africa next month.
But an official at the broadcaster, who declined to be named, denied the reports in a separate meeting with reporters, retracting his earlier comments.
North Korea has qualified for the World Cup finals for the first time in 44 years, sending its team to South Africa last week. In the 1966 World Cup in England, the country made a splash by advancing to the quarterfinals.
SBS and North Korea have held talks twice in Beijing since last August. The broadcaster said it is not seeking financial rewards, but only "North Korean cooperation in the production of the broadcasts." It did not specifically say what has blocked the negotiations from moving forward, only citing strained political relations between the divided states.
In 2006, the South Korean government provided recorded coverage of two World Cup matches to its impoverished communist neighbor at its own expense. A spokesman at South Korea's Unification Ministry said Tuesday the Seoul government has yet to consider whether it will allow such a transmission again because SBS has not made any headway in its talks with North Korea.
"SBS has not yet requested such approval," Chun Hae-sung told reporters. "We will consider it only after we receive such a request."
North Korea has been in growing need of cash to curb its economic troubles, which depeened after a botched currency reform late last year, analysts say. Tension is also high between North and South Korea after a South Korean naval ship mysteriously sank near their western sea border in March.
North Korean Weapons Seized in Bangkok Were Headed for Hamas Via Syria
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korean weapons seized in Bangkok in December were destined for the Hamas and Hizbullah militant groups via Syria, the Israeli foreign ministry said in a statement on May 11.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman made the announcement while meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in Tokyo.
It is the first time that any government officials have publicly talked about the destination of the 35 tons of North Korean arms seized at the Bangkok airport in December, although Dennis Blair, U.S. director of national intelligence, had said the cargo was bound for the Middle East.
U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said he did not want to comment on the announcement by Israel.
At a meeting in Tokyo, "Lieberman raised the issue of cooperation between North Korea and Syria," the Israeli statement said.
"He stated that cooperation of this nature endangers the stability of South East Asia as well as that of the Middle East, and contradicts all the accepted norms and rules of the international arena," the statement said. "Minister Lieberman stated further that the North Korean-Syrian cooperation is not focused on economic development and growth, but rather on weapons of mass destruction, illegal smuggling -- as was seen several months ago when a North Korean plane loaded with a huge quantity of armaments destined for the Hamas and Hizbullah terror organizations was detained in Bangkok -- as well as other destabilizing events."
A pay-off years ago by Israel reportedly failed to persuade North Korea to stop shipping weapons to the Middle East.
The Thai government has provided the outcome of its probe to the U.N. Security Council as North Korea is banned by U.N. resolutions from shipping weapons.
The sanctions were imposed after North Korea conducted its second nuclear test and launched a rocket into space early last year.
Arms sales are one of the major sources of revenue for North Korea, suspected of being behind nuclear and missile proliferation in Syria, Iran, Pakistan and several other countries.
The United Arab Emirates in July seized a Bahamian-flagged ship carrying North Korean rocket-propelled grenades and other conventional weapons labeled as machine parts, the first seizure under Security Council Resolution 1874, adopted in June after North Korea's nuclear test two months earlier.
In June, a North Korean cargo ship, possibly on its way to Myanmar, returned home after being closely tracked by U.S. Navy vessels.
India seized a North Korean ship off its coast in August, but found no weapons aboard.