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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 229 (Sept. 27, 2012)

IAEA Members Urge North Korea to Stop Nuclear Activity

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The U.N. nuclear watchdog adopted a resolution on Sept. 21 denouncing North Korea for its continued nuclear activity.

   In the resolution approved at the annual general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, its member states urged North Korea "not to conduct any further nuclear test."

   The secretive communist nation has conducted two underground nuclear tests, in 2006 and 2009.

   The resolution also "calls upon (North Korea) to come into full compliance" with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and abide by U.N. Security Council resolutions.

   Pyongyang announced its withdrawal from the NPT in January 2003.

   It also demands North Korea fulfill its commitments made under the Sept. 19, 2005, deal with its five dialogue partners in the six-party talks. In the 2005 joint statement, Pyongyang agreed to abandon its nuclear program in return for political and economic incentives.

   Following a Feb. 29 agreement with the United States, Pyongyang invited an IAEA delegation to visit there to "discuss technical issues with regard to the monitoring of moratorium on uranium enrichment activities" in its main nuclear site in Yongbyon.

   At the end of March, the IAEA replied that it was willing to follow up on North Korea's invitation "in a constructive spirit."

   The so-called Leap Day deal, however, was virtually annulled when Pyongyang launched a long-range rocket in April.

   North Korea has since rejected cooperation with the IAEA. Pyongyang expelled IAEA monitors from Yongbyon in 2009.


S. Korea, U.S. Reaffirm Cooperation to Keep N. Korea Stable: Envoy

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Seoul's top nuclear envoy said on Sept. 22 South Korea and the U.S. agreed to continue working together to help maintain stability on the Korean Peninsula and prevent North Korea from launching further provocations in an election year.

   Lim Sung-nam, Seoul's chief negotiator to the six-party talks aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions, made the remark after returning from his three-day trip to Washington to have talks with his U.S. counterpart Glyn Davies and other senior officials.

   "South Korea and the U.S. shared the consensus that the situation on the Korean Peninsula needs to be stable ahead of the presidential elections in both countries, and North Korea should not launch additional provocations," Lim told Yonhap News Agency by phone.

   The two allies have been closely watching the situation in the socialist state under the young, untested leader Kim Jong-un and for any sign of nuclear tests or provocations, wary of their impact on diplomacy and domestic politics as major elections near.

   Leading Korean presidential candidates have pledged to improve relations with Pyongyang ahead of the December race, as the incumbent President Lee Myung-bak's single-five year term ends in February 2013. U.S. President Barack Obama is campaigning for the November race for another four years in the top office, amid growing pressure from instability in the Middle East.

   Lim's trip follows his visit earlier September to Beijing, where he held talks with his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei to discuss the North's light-water atomic reactor project.

   Seoul is concerned that the North's reactor under construction at its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon might be a cover to stockpile enriched uranium, a fissile material used to make bombs, although Pyongyang claims it is for producing electricity.

   Late August, the International Atomic Energy Agency said North Korea had made "significant" progress in the light-water reactor project. Citing satellite imagery, the U.N. agency said the North has put a dome over the facility.

   The six-party talks, which involve the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan, have been dormant since late 2008.


Trade between North Korea, Russia Surges 50 Percent in H1

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Bilateral trade between North Korea and its ally Russia surged nearly 50 percent from a year earlier in the first half, a report said on Sept. 22.

   According to the report from Seoul's state-run Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA), the amount of bilateral trade between the two countries in the January-June period came to US$38.8 million, up 49 percent from the same period of 2011.

   The report, however, noted such a large on-year increase was due to a large drop posted in the first half of 2011.

   "The volume of bilateral trade between North Korea and Russia is still insignificant by any standard," it said.

   The increase was also caused by a 68.3 percent rise in shipments of Russian goods to North Korea with fuel and steel products accounting for 29.9 percent and 28.7 percent of total shipments, respectively.

   North Korea's exports to Russia dropped 10.9 percent on-year to $5.4 million, according to the KOTRA report.


U.S. Lauds Iraq for Blocking N. Korean Airplane Bound for Syria

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The U.S. government applauded Iraq on Sept. 23 for a decision last week to block a North Korean airplane heading toward Syria from passing through its airspace.

   "We appreciate that Iraq has taken this positive step consistent with its international obligations and commitments, and to fully implement UNSC resolutions," a U.S. State Department official told Yonhap News Agency on the customary condition of anonymity, saying it is Washington's formal position on the issue.

   Iraq denied overflight permission to the North Korean airplane suspected of carrying weapons to Syria, where the Bashar Assad regime is fighting a bloody war against rebels demanding democracy.

   North Korea is known as an ally of Syria.

   The official said Iraq should "take additional steps to prevent others, including Iran, from abusing its airspace by shipping arms to Syria or landing in Iraqi territory for inspection."


Kim Jong-un Regime Faces Difficulties in Power Transition

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The new Kim Jong-un regime in North Korea faces fundamental difficulties consolidating its power due to its sickly economy and tensions with the international community, the unification minister in Seoul said on Sept. 24.

   "The official process to take over power and dominate the power groups has smoothly taken place," Minister Yu Woo-ik said in a meeting with foreign correspondents in Seoul.

   But difficulties still remain in its ongoing efforts to stabilize the new regime, he said.

   "Closed external relations and its domestic economy being in dire condition pose fundamental limitations to the power stabilization efforts," Yu said.

   The minister also called on the North to make sincere policy changes and show responsible actions in order to help improve inter-Korean relations, which have dived to the worst level in decades.

   "The primary obligation to untangle these (restrained) relations lies with the North, which gave cause (for the frozen ties)," Yu said, referring to the North's attack on a South Korean island and a Navy ship in 2010, which led to a chill in the inter-Korean relationship.

   Unless the North apologizes and accepts responsibility, relations with the South will remain unchanged even under the next administration, he said.

   Also referring to the North's unexpected parliamentary meeting on Tuesday, Yu said the parliamentary discussion could possibly include economic reforms.

   Speculations have risen that the North will take legal steps to start economic reforms since the country said in early September that it will hold a second session of its rubber-stamp parliament, the Supreme People's Assembly. Generally the parliament meets only once each year.

   Even if the North takes reformist actions, "It's only when the country starts to visibly improve the livelihoods of its people that we can assess (the results) of the efforts," he noted.

   Referring to the North's recent violations of the western sea border, Yu said Seoul is on alert against any further incursions.

   In mid-September, North Korean fishing vessels crossed into the southern side of the maritime border in the Yellow Sea, known as the Northern Limit Line (NLL), on several occasions, causing the South to fire warning shots on Sept. 21 to repel them.

   "At the beginning (of the series of incursions), the government saw it was only by a mistake ... but the incursions were made by too many ships on too many occasions to be dismissed as mere mistakes," he said.

   "I hope the unusual violations of the NLL were not planned by the North with provocative intentions," the minister said, adding the government and the military will be closely keeping an eye on further incursions in the western sea front.


South Korean, U.S. Envoys Discuss North Korean Human Rights

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A U.S. special envoy met with South Korea's chief nuclear negotiator on Sept. 24 and discussed ways to promote human rights conditions in North Korea, officials said.

   Ambassador Robert King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights, held talks earlier in the day with Lim Sung-nam, South Korea's top negotiator to the six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

   After talks with Lim, King told reporters that, "It's important that we continue talking about our efforts to promote human rights in North Korea."

   King arrived in Seoul on Sept. 22 for a five-day visit as part of his Asian "field trips" aimed at assessing the latest human rights situation in North Korea, Seoul officials said.

   King and Seoul officials also exchanged views on the North's new leader Kim Jong-un, who took the helm of the socialist state in December 2011 after the death of his father, they said.

   But the topic of humanitarian aid to North Korea has been taken off the table during meetings between King and Seoul officials, they said.

   King previously visited Seoul in June and met with government officials, lawmakers, North Korean defectors and officials of non-governmental organizations.


Tunnel at North Korea's Nuclear Test Site Damaged by Typhoon

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- One of two new tunnels at North Korea's nuclear test site was damaged by a recent typhoon and heavy rains, but appears to have only minor damage, a Seoul government source said on Sept. 26.

   North Korea has built two new tunnels at Punggye-ri in the northeastern province of North Hamgyong, where the North conducted atomic tests in 2006 and 2009, in a possible preparation for its third underground nuclear test.

   "It appears that one of two newly-dug tunnels at Punggye-ri was damaged by a typhoon and heavy rains," the source said on condition of anonymity.

   However, the source said, the damage was not severe but only soil erosion at the tunnel entrance.

   Concerns persist that North Korea might carry out a third underground nuclear test after its much-hyped launch of a long-range missile fizzled in April. Media outlets have reported the North appears to have completed preparations for such a test.

   "It is not the situation that North Korea could not conduct a nuclear test because there is another new tunnel, if the North puts its mind to it," the source said.

   North Korea was hit by two typhoons and severe floods in recent months, which left hundreds of people killed or missing.

   Earlier, a foreign Web site following North Korea on Sept. 25 said North Korea halted the construction work to build a new rocket launch pad in its east coastal launch site possibly because of recent flood damage.

   Recently taken satellite imagery of the launch site, commonly known as Musudan-ri, shows Pyongyang "halted work at a new launch pad intended to conduct future tests of larger, liquid-fueled rockets," the 38 North Web site said.

   Along with the work at the launch pad, construction of fuel and oxidizer buildings, designed to support launching activities, were also put on hold, it said.

   North Korea's previous launches of long-range missiles in 2006 and 2009 were followed by nuclear tests. The international community has warned the North, already under U.N. sanctions for the nuclear tests, that it will face tougher sanctions if it goes ahead with another test.