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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 237 (Nov. 22, 2012)

North Korea Estimated to Have up to 1.16 Million Troops: Think Tank

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A South Korean state-run think tank projected on Nov. 15 there could be more than 1 million soldiers in North Korea, much higher than the figure offered by the socialist country.

   Accurate data about the North is hard to obtain as the country remains almost cut off from the international community. Figures such as its population and troop numbers are based mostly on sketchy information provided by the North.

   According to a report by the Korea Development Institute, troop numbers in the North are estimated at up to 1.16 million, which is higher than the 700,000 Pyongyang suggested in a nationwide census conducted in 2008.

   The North's military figure is calculated by subtracting from its total population of 24.05 million those who reside outside of military installation zones. In its first census in 1993, that number was 690,000 and it increased slightly to 700,000 in the latest survey.

   The report, however, called into question the proportion of solders in each age group suggested by the census.

   The portion of soldiers aged 20-24 stood at 40.9 percent but the ratio abruptly plunged to 9.7 percent for those aged 25-29, the census showed.

   Given the military service system in the North, where men serve for at least 10 years, those figures do not add up, the report said.

   Based on those suspicions, the report re-calculated and projected that the number of troops aged 25-34 might be somewhere between 430,000 and 560,000, which is much higher than the 90,000 the North claimed.

   "As a result, we estimate that the number of troops in the North might be in line with about 1.11-1.19 million, a figure which is projected by our government," the report said.


Defense Officials Gather in Seoul to Discuss N. Korea's Nuclear Issue

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Senior defense officials and security advisers from home and abroad gathered in Seoul on Nov. 15 for a regional security forum aimed at discussing ways to curb weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and handle North Korea's nuclear threat, the defense ministry said.

   The inaugural Seoul Defense Dialogue (SDD) brought vice minister-level and other senior defense officials from 15 Asia-Pacific countries, the European Union and two international organizations, the ministry said.

   The three-day forum runs through Nov. 16 at the Shilla Hotel in Seoul.

   "North Korea's nuclear weapons and missiles and military provocations are hampering peace on the Korean Peninsula and in the Asia-Pacific region," South Korean defense minister Kim Kwan-jin said in an address. "Global cooperation and understanding is needed to handle these threats and seek co-prosperity."

   Kim said the Asia-Pacific region has become a "strategic point" as the U.S. increasingly puts more of its defense focus on the area amid China's rise.

   He called for concerted efforts to maintain peace and stability in the region.

   "There are several causes of conflicts in this region, including arms races, territorial conflicts and historical problems," Kim said. "I hope defense officials and security professionals will have in-depth discussions during the SDD to develop relationships."

   This year's forum consists of three sessions -- common security challenges in the Asia-Pacific region, cooperation against WMDs and countermeasures against cyber threats, and efficient defense operations.

   Several panels discussed issues related to North Korea, its nuclear program and potential changes under the new leader Kim Jong-un.

   James Przystup, a U.S. senior fellow at the National Defense University, said dealing with challenges presented by the nuclear-armed communist state is one of the biggest security threats in the Asia-Pacific region.

   "Denuclearization will be a protracted process. In the meantime, the international community will be faced with the continuing threat of WMD proliferation from Pyongyang," Przystup said during a panel debate.

   The American scholar called for enhanced international cooperation in sanctions enforcement, while opening the door for ways to coordinate with South Korea when it picks a new president in next month's election.

   On the contrary, Wang Yizhou, a Chinese professor at Peking University, showed hope for change in North Korea through reform measures, citing slogans for people's livelihood, messages on special economic zones and closer relations with China.

   "North Korea can be the next Cuba promoting new economic policy, though there are structural disputes with the U.S.," Wang said. "South Korea may have a new president who can forge better relations between South and North Korea after the election."

   The Philippines, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, New Zealand and Vietnam sent vice or assistant defense ministers. Lt. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas, the deputy commander of U.S. forces Korea, is attending the meeting as the U.S. representative.


Ambassador Says U.S. Ready to 'Engage Constructively' with N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The American ambassador to South Korea said on Nov. 16 Washington is ready to engage "constructively" with North Korea if the socialist state lives up to its commitment to disarmament and opens up to the international community.

   "We have been clear that we are prepared to engage constructively with North Korea," Ambassador Sung Kim said during a lecture hosted by the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. "However, North Korea must live up to its commitments and adhere to its international obligations and deal peacefully with its neighbors."

   It is the North that walked away from the six-party talks, but still, Washington and Seoul are prepared to re-engage in the multilateral process for its disarmament, Kim said.

   The envoy's remarks came in response to high interest in the Obama administration's policy on North Korea in its second term, while both ruling and opposition parties in South Korea have pledged to improve relations with the socialist state in the run-up to next month's presidential election.

   Kim, a Korean-born diplomat, reaffirmed his commitment to a strong alliance between the two nations to handle security challenges constantly posed by Pyongyang.

   "North Korea's irresponsible pursuit of nuclear weapons and missiles poses a serious threat to all of us," Kim said. "We are continuing to work together to improve our combined defense capabilities."

   Regarding the recent agreement to revise the missile guideline to nearly triple the missile range to 800 kilometers, Kim said it is a "smart" and "proportionate" response to the North's ballistic missiles and nuclear threats.

   "The two governments have been constantly looking at ways to improve combined combat capabilities," Kim said. "I fully expect the two sides will continue to have a series of discussions about what other ways we can employ to improve our deterrent capabilities."

   The two sides have been in close consultations to maintain high military readiness after the transition of wartime operational command control (OPCON) to Seoul at the end of 2015. Kim said government officials have been discussing ways to create "a sort of review mechanism" to replace the Combined Forces Command (CFC), which has served as a control tower of their actual military partnerships. The CFC will be dismantled when Seoul regains its OPCON at the end of 2015.

   "As partners whose alliance is a linchpin of stability in Northeast Asia, we take seriously our mission of maintaining stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the region," Kim said.


S. Korean Nuclear Envoy to Visit U.S. for Talks on N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea's nuclear envoy will visit the United States next week for consultations on North Korea's nuclear issue in the wake of U.S. President Barack Obama's re-election, a Seoul official said on Nov. 16.

   Lee Do-hoon, Seoul's deputy chief envoy for the six-nation talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear weapons program, will meet with Clifford Hart, Washington's special envoy for the six-party talks and other U.S. officials on a three-day trip beginning on Nov. 19.

   The envoys "plan to assess the recent situation on the Korean Peninsula and discuss future ways to deal with North Korea," the foreign ministry official said on the condition of anonymity.

   Obama was elected to a second term last week and South Korea is set to elect a new leader on Dec. 19.

   This week, South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said fresh efforts will likely be launched to re-open the six-party talks once leadership changes are completed in some of the countries involved in the long-stalled dialogue.

   Kim also voiced hope that the U.S. and North Korea would resume one-on-one dialogue if the communist country takes proper steps to restore trust lost when it broke a food-for-nuclear freeze deal reached with Washington early this year.

   The six-party talks, which put together the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan, have been stalled since late 2008 following disagreement over an aid-for-denuclearization deal.


U.S. Calls for Vigilance against North Korea's Arms Trade

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The U.S. government on Nov. 15 urged the international community to stay vigilant against reportedly continued attempts by North Korea to export weapons and related materials in breach of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

   "The United States will continue to work with the international community and our partners on the U.N. Security Council, including China, to enforce sanctions against the DPRK (North Korea) and to urge all countries to be vigilant in their dealings with North Korea," the State Department said in a statement.

   It came in response to a formal inquiry over Washington's position in the wake of media reports that a Chinese ship carrying hundreds of North Korean-made graphite cylinders usable in ballistic missile were intercepted in May by South Korean authorities en route to Syria. The department would not confirm the reports.

   "We refer you to the government of the Republic of Korea for comment," it said.

   U.N. resolutions, adopted after Pyongyang's nuclear and long-range missile tests, ban the communist nation from trading nuclear-and missile-related items, conventional arms and luxury goods.

   Many agree that China holds the key to the implementation of the sanctions. China shares a porous border with North Korea, and it is the largest benefactor of the impoverished neighbor.