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Only a Fourth of N. Korean Households has Access to Electricity

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- As North Korea continues to suffer chronic energy shortages, only about a fourth of all the socialist country's households has access to electricity for residential use, a foreign news outlet said on May 18.

   Access to electricity in the North in 2009 for use in cooking and lighting was the fifth-lowest of all Asian-Pacific countries at 26 percent, U.S. broadcaster Voice of America (VOA) reported, citing data released by the United Nations Development Program.

   The amount of electricity used per person in the North has suffered a sharp downturn since 1990, plummeting to 713 kilowatt-hours in 2000 from the previous 1,246 kilowatt-hours, the VOA said. In 2008, that number increased only slightly to 804 kilowatt-hours.

   According to the report, 60.6 percent of all electricity in the North was generated by hydroelectric plants in 2008, while 36 percent and 3.4 percent were generated by coal-fired and oil-fired plants, respectively.

   North Korea's production of energy in general lagged behind other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, the report showed.

   Total energy produced in the socialist country was also the fifth-lowest of 16 countries in the region, at 20.3 million tons of oil equivalent (TOE) in 2009, according to the report. TOE measures the amount of energy released by burning one ton of crude oil.

   The North's share in energy consumption from fossil fuels amounts to 89 percent, while 11 percent is from renewable energy sources, the report said.

   North Korea recently completed the construction of a new hydroelectric power plant, one of its countermeasures to tackle the country's chronic shortage of electricity and other energy sources.


G-8 Leaders Warn of Tougher Actions against North Korea

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- Leaders of the world's eight advanced nations wrapped up their summit in the U.S. on May 19 with a warning that North Korea will face stronger punishment in case of further provocations.

   "We continue to have deep concerns about provocative actions of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) that threaten regional stability," they said in a statement on the results of a two-day summit at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland. The North's formal name was used in the diplomatic document titled "Camp David Declaration."

   U.S. President Barack Obama hosted the annual meeting with his counterparts from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and Britain designed to address major global economic and political challenges.

   The leaders condemned the North's long-range rocket launch in mid-April which ended in failure.

   "We urge the DPRK to comply with its international obligations and abandon all nuclear and ballistic missile programs in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner," read the statement.

   The international community is keeping close tabs on the socialist regime amid worries that it will take additional provocative actions such as missile and nuclear tests as well as attacks on South Korea.

   "We affirm our will to call on the UN Security Council to take action, in response to additional DPRK acts, including ballistic missile launches and nuclear tests," the leaders said.

   They also expressed concern about human rights violations in the North including political prisoner camps and handling of South Korean and Japanese people abducted by Pyongyang decades ago.

   Earlier of the day, meanwhile, Obama reiterated an overture coupled with a warning message.

   "All of us agree that North Korea is violating its international obligations and that there is a path for them to rejoin the international community," he told reporters.

   The G-8 leaders discussed North Korea, along with Iran, Syria and Burma, in their working dinner on May 18 that focused on global security issues, according to White House officials.

   In the second-day session, Europe's financial crisis was mainly discussed, they added.

   "The global economic recovery shows signs of promise, but significant headwinds persist," the Camp David Declaration read.

   The G-8 nations agreed to "take all necessary steps to strengthen and reinvigorate our economies and combat financial stresses," affirming their shared interest in dealing with financial crises in Greece and several other European nations, according to the statement.

   Afghanistan will be a top agenda item in a NATO summit to be held in Chicago on Sunday and Monday, Obama's security aides said.


S. Korea, U.S., Japan Warn N.K. over Nuclear Test, Urge 'Different Path'

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea, the United States and Japan on May 21 warned that North Korea will risk facing more sanctions and deepening its isolation if it conducts a nuclear test, imploring the North to take a "different path" to refrain from further provocations.

   The united message came after high-level diplomats from the three nations held three-way talks in Seoul earlier in the day to discuss ways to curb further provocations by North Korea amid concerns it may be preparing to proceed with a third nuclear test.

   The talks involved Lim Sung-nam, Seoul's chief nuclear envoy, his Japanese counterpart Shinsuke Sugiyama, and Glyn Davies, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea policy.

   "I think it would be a serious miscalculation and mistake if North Korea worked to engage in a nuclear test," Davies told reporters after the Monday talks.

   "If there is further provocation such as a nuclear test, there will be swift and sure reaction by the international community," Davies said.

   Concerns have grown after its failed launch of a long-range rocket on April 13, a clear violation of U.N. resolutions that prompted the international community to tighten sanctions against the impoverished regime.

   Asked about whether there are any imminent signs of a nuclear test in North Korea, Davies replied, "I don't have any particular word to convey to you about that. We all have followed the same information that you've seen about what may or may not be going on in North Korea to prepare for a nuclear test."

   "We are united in our resolve, to respond not just (as) the three allies, but Russia and China as well," Davies said, adding he hopes that North Korea does not "miscalculate" and will make "a different set of decisions."

   Earlier in the day, the South Korean envoy Lim also called on North Korea's new leadership to take a "different path" toward peace and change its course of provocations.

   "In response to the failed launch, the international community, including the three of us, as well as China and Russia, has been able to send a clear and consistent message to Pyongyang that North Korea should refrain from any further provocations," Lim said in his opening remarks.

   "There will be a different path for them if they make the right decision," Lim said, adding he hopes that the Monday talks could "lead North Korea to the right side of peace."

   In a separate meeting with the media after the talks, Sugiyama also echoed the remarks by Lim and Davies.

   If North Korea proceeds with a "further escalation" of tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the three nations will take a "unified and coordinated action," Sugiyama said.

   "If, otherwise, DPRK (North Korea) decides rightly, all of our three are ready to go for a different path," Sugiyama said.

   Seoul officials said that the May 21 talks were aimed at assessing the situation on the Korean Peninsula following the failed launch of a long-range missile and discussing ways to prevent North Korea from carrying out additional provocations.


Satellite Photos Show Continued Activity at N. Korea's Nuke Test Site

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is ramping up activity at its nuclear test site in the country's northeastern area, said James Hardy, the Asia Pacific specialist at IHS Jane's Defense Weekly, citing satellite imagery analysis.

   "Images taken by DigitalGlobe and GeoEye in the past month show mining carts and excavation equipment present at the active tunneling site, yielding the largest amount of spoil -- or debris recovered from inside the tunnel -- around the tunnel entrance to date," Hardy said on May 22 in a comment sent to Yonhap News Agency.

   He also said the full mining train, which includes an engine and several carts, was outside the tunnel, citing an April 18 GeoEye image.

   "A May 9 DigitalGlobe image shows new road networks within the spoil piles, carts and a vehicle in the site operations facility," he said.

   His comment came a day after South Korea, the United States and Japan warned that North Korea will risk facing more sanctions and deepening its isolation if it conducts a nuclear test.

   "I think it would be a serious miscalculation and mistake if North Korea worked to engage in a nuclear test," Glyn Davies, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea policy, said Monday in Seoul after talks with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts.

   "If there is further provocation such as a nuclear test, there will be swift and sure reaction by the international community," Davies said.

   There has been speculation that the communist country may carry out a nuclear test to try to compensate for last month's botched rocket launch.

   The long-range rocket, which Pyongyang claimed was meant to put a satellite into orbit, exploded soon after lift-off on April 13. South Korea and the U.S. said it was a cover for testing the North's ballistic missile technology.

   The North has a track record of carrying out a nuclear test following a long-range missile test.

   In 2006, the North conducted its first nuclear test, three months after the test-firing of its long-range Taepodong-2 rocket. The second nuclear test in 2009 came just one month after a long-range rocket launch.


U.S. Tepid about North Korea's Overture, Threats

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The U.S. government was apparently unenthusiastic on May 22 about North Korea's latest overture, coupled with its typical threats.

   "We're going to be guided not by what they say, but what they do," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a press briefing.

   She was responding to remarks by her North Korean counterpart that the communist nation has no plans to conduct a nuclear test soon and it remains open for a negotiated solution to the nuclear issue.

   Pyongyang informed the U.S. several weeks ago that it is "refraining" from provocative actions, according to the unnamed spokesman for Pyongyang's foreign ministry.

   The spokesman reiterated that the North will be "left with no option but to take counter-measures for self-defense" if Washington continues to put sanctions and pressure on it.

   Nuland said, "Frankly, I'm not sure what they mean by that. ... I'm not sure what they actually had in mind."

   She pointed out that the U.S. has lost confidence in North Korea's commitments to denuclearization.

   "You know what we've been saying about the Leap Day Agreement, that we no longer have any confidence in any of the commitments that they've made since they've already abrogated the major ones," she said.

   Under the Feb. 29 deal, the North pledged to suspend some of its nuclear activity and long-range missile tests. In return, the U.S. agreed to offer food aid.

   Nuland neither confirmed nor denied a news report that a senior U.S. government official visited Pyongyang a week before the North's rocket launch in April.

   "I'm not commenting on it one way or the other," she said.

   A diplomatic source said Joseph DeTrani, the director of the National Counterproliferation Center (NCPC) under the Office of Director of the National Intelligence (DNI), made the secret trip to Pyongyang.

   DeTrani served at the DNI as the North Korea Mission Manager, where he was responsible for integrating collection and analysis on North Korea.

   He is known to have organized former President Bill Clinton's visit to Pyongyang in August 2009, which led to the release of two female American journalists.

   The source said President Barack Obama might have delivered a special message to the North Korean regime through DeTrani, although his mission to dissuade it from firing a long-range rocket ended in failure.

   Meanwhile, North Korea is increasing activity at its nuclear test site, the U.S. cable news channel CNN reported, citing analysis of new satellite images by the defense publication IHS Janes.

   Mining carts and excavation equipment are seen at Punggye-ri, North Hamgyeong Province, where it detonated a nuclear device in 2006 and 2009, according to satellite images taken by Digital Globe and GeoEye in April, CNN said.


North Korea's New Rocket Assembly Building Aimilar to Iran's

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- A new building apparently designed to assemble large rockets at North Korea's launch site is similar to the one at Iran's launch complex, a U.S. institute's Web site reported on May 23, in what could be the latest sign of bilateral missile cooperation.

   North Korea began to upgrade its Musudan-ri site in the country's northeast to support future launches of larger rockets, liquid-fueled space launch vehicles or intercontinental missiles, said 38 North, a project of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies dedicated to analysis of the North.

   A new launch pad is under construction at the site and much of the nearby village of Taepodong has been razed to clear the way for what appears to be a new building designed to assemble larger rockets, it said.

   "The new facility is somewhat similar to a recently completed horizontal assembly building at Iran's Semnan launch complex, also intended to handle a new large liquid-fueled rocket," 38 North said.

   The North Korean facility seems to have a similar layout, with labs and what appear to be administrative offices on the sides of a high bay building. There are also clear differences, however. For example, a T-shaped building at the end of the North Korean structure is not present in Iran, according to the Web site.

   The two countries have a long history of missile cooperation, although it is too soon to tell whether that cooperation extends to the design and construction of this facility or the new long-range liquid-fueled rocket, said 38 North.

   In 2006, Iran's military commander publicly acknowledged that his country had obtained Scud-B and Scud-C missiles from North Korea during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, but said it no longer needed Pyongyang's assistance.


U.S. to Mull Food Aid for North Korea If It Changes Direction

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- A White House official said on May 23 that the U.S. will again consider food aid for North Korea if it stays away from provocations and averts a confrontational course.

   "I think the precondition is that North Koreans have to demonstrate that they are going to refrain from those types of provocative actions and they are serious about moving in a different direction," Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said at a press conference for foreign reporters.

   He pointed out that Washington has lost trust in the communist regime as it reneged on a bilateral deal by launching a long-range rocket in April.

   The two sides reached an agreement on Feb. 29, nicknamed the "Leap Day Deal," after high-level talks. It called for the North to suspend some of its nuclear activity and put a moratorium on missile launches.

   In exchange, the U.S. promised to deliver 240,000 tons of food. Washington halted a related process after the North's rocket launch.

   Rhodes said the U.S. is not convinced that food, if shipped, will reach ordinary people in need such as mothers, children and pregnant women.

   He stressed that the U.S. remains open to bilateral and multilateral talks with the North.

   But he expressed skepticism that Pyongyang will change its mode.

   "We haven't seen that indication yet," he said. "Right now we not optimistic that there will be any imminent breakthrough that could lead to the provision of additional assistance."

   On a trip to Northeast Asia, meanwhile, Washington's point man on Pyongyang also said food assistance is still a viable option depending on the North's attitude.

   "I think as you all know the United States has been historically very generous when it comes to the provision of nutritional assistance," Glyn Davies, special representative for North Korea policy, told reporters after meetings with Chinese officials in Beijing.

   The U.S. has provided more than 2.2 million metric tons of food, valued at over $850 million, to North Korea since the mid-1990s, he noted.

   "And should the opportunity present itself, if we can reach a stage where we can once again have faith in the North Koreans' ability to abide by its undertakings and its promises, we would like very much to get back to the provision of nutritional assistance," he said.


North Korea 'Technically Ready' for Nuclear Test: Seoul Official

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea appears to have finished preparations and is "technically ready" to conduct a third nuclear test, a Seoul official said on May 23.

   The remarks by the senior government official came a day after North Korea stepped up its bellicose rhetoric, vowing to boost its nuclear deterrent amid pressure from the United States, South Korea and Japan to refrain from carrying out a nuclear test.

   The North's foreign ministry spokesman said in a report carried by the official KNCA news agency on May 22 that Pyongyang would take "countermeasures for self-defense" if Washington and Seoul continue to put pressure on the socialist regime.

   "North Korea will make a decision on conducting a nuclear test based on its political judgment," the South Korean official told Yonhap News Agency by telephone.

   Major considerations for the political judgment would include "international pressure and sanctions as well as opposition from China and Russia," the official said on the condition of anonymity.

   South Korean military authorities have detected brisk activities at the North's northeastern nuclear test site of Punggye-ri, including new roads and structures, mining carts and excavation vehicles, the official said.

   In the English-language KCNA report, North Korea also said it "did not envisage such a military measure as a nuclear test" but the official said that the "claim is different from a technical judgment" by South Korea and the U.S.

   South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities are closely watching activities at Punggye-ri, the official said.

   North Korea defied international warnings and launched a long-range rocket on April 13, although it fell apart shortly after take-off. Concerns have grown that the North may soon conduct a third nuclear test as its two previous rocket launches in 2006 and 2009 were followed by nuclear tests.

   Many analysts said the North's new nuclear test is just a matter of time following the unsuccessful attempt to launch a long-range rocket.

   On May 21, Glyn Davies, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea policy, warned that North Korea would risk more sanctions and deepening its isolation if it conducts a nuclear test.

   "It would be a serious miscalculation and mistake if North Korea worked to engage in a nuclear test," Davies said. "If there is a further provocation such as a nuclear test, there will be swift and sure reaction by the international community."