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U.N. Committee Urges North Korea Not to Launch Missile

NEW YORK/ WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- A U.N. Security Council committee overseeing sanctions on North Korea warned the socialist nation on Nov. 29 not to go ahead with another ballistic missile launch.

   "We all agree it would be extremely inadvisable to proceed with the test," Portuguese Ambassador Jose Filipe Moraes Cabral, who heads the North Korea sanctions committee, told reporters.

   He was emerging from a regular session to report the committee's works to the council.

   The envoy would not talk about whether there is specific evidence of an imminent North Korean missile test.

   He just said, "There is concern about that, it's obvious."

   South Korean military sources said increased activities have detected at North Korea's missile launch site near its border with China, including new tents and the movement of people, trucks and oxygen tanks.

   DigitalGlobe, a commercial satellite image firm, also confirmed those activities, similar to those ahead of Pyongyang's long-range rocket launch in April.

   In a fresh report, a U.S. institute cited new satellite photos as indicating Pyongyang's missile launch may be just around the corner.

   "If Pyongyang follows past practice in preparing for a launch, it could be ready to fire a rocket as early as the end of the first week in December," the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies said on its Web site, "38 North."

   Imagery taken between Nov. 23 and Nov. 26 shows trailers carrying the first two stages of a long-range rocket parked near the main missile assembly building, it said.

   The Washington-based institute said it is a "clear indicator that the rocket stages are being checked out before moving to the pad for an eventual launch."

   But it pointed out that North Korea's past practice has been to announce the dates for the launch window to avoid damage to planes and ships around an expected trajectory.

   Pyongyang has not taken such a step yet.


White House Says Reports of Secret Trip to Pyongyang Are 'News'

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- Reports of a secret visit by White House officials to North Korea in August are even 'news' to the press secretary of the presidential office.

   "That's not a question I can answer because it is news to me," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at a press briefing.

   South Korean newspapers quoted unnamed sources as saying that a U.S. Air Force jet, carrying senior White House officials, flew into Pyongyang in August.

   They added the trip might have been aimed at coaxing North Korea to stay away from provocative acts, especially before the U.S. presidential elections.

   Some sources said, if true, the visit could reflect Washington's push to establish a separate channel with Pyongyang to manage military tensions on the peninsula.

   "I haven't seen those reports, and they don't ring true to me," Carney said. "But I'll have to take your question."

   His response would mean either the media reports are not true or such a mission has been kept secret among top-ranking members of the White House National Security Council (NSC).


U.S. Gov't Keeps Urging North Korea to Act like Myanmar

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- Despite widespread skepticism that North Korea will follow the footsteps of Myanmar and veer towards democracy in the foreseeable future, the Barack Obama administration is continuing to send a message to an unresponsive Pyongyang.

   Tom Donilon, national security adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama, again emphasized North Korea should look to Myanmar, also known as Burma, as an example of successfully breaking isolation and joining the international community.

   "They are terribly isolated, and it would be an important example for North Koreans to look at as the potential path that they might travel down," he was quoted as saying on Nov. 29 at a forum hosted by the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

   "They have a new leader, who has at least claimed publically that their priority is the economic well-being of his people," Donilon added, according to local media.

   Myanmar has taken initial but crucial steps towards democracy after decades of dictatorships. As an incentive, the U.S. has lifted many of the tough sanctions imposed on the nation.

   Myanmar's change is viewed as one of the Obama government's diplomatic achievements.

   Many agree that it would be far more difficult to lead North Korea to the path of change.

   The communist nation has nuclear weapons. The state strictly controls media and other channels of information.

   There is no sign of a popular movement in the North, let alone a figure like Aung San Suu Kyi.

   A dilemma for the U.S. is that there is no better idea for now in dealing with North Korea than dangling carrots and waiting, observers say.

   On a historic trip to Myanmar earlier this month, Obama delivered a clear message to Pyongyang that his government is willing to let bygones be bygones.

   "To the leadership of North Korea, I have offered a choice: let go of your nuclear weapons and choose the path of peace and progress," he said. "If you do, you will find an extended hand from the United States of America."


N. Korean Leader, Favorite to Become Time's Person of the Year

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un remains the solid front-runner in Time's poll of influential figures in this year's world news and culture for good or ill, according to the U.S. magazine.

   As of noon on Nov. 30, Kim had gained 1,248,275 votes, followed by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi with 332,029 and Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenage activist shot by Taliban attackers for advocating girls' rights to education, with 155,904.

   South Korea's popular rapper Psy, known for his global hit song "Gangnam Style," ranked fourth with 69,304.

   Time said online votes will close at 11:59p.m. on Dec. 12, and the winner will be announced Dec. 14.

   The North Korean ruler, known to be in his late 20s, took the helm of the communist nation about a year ago after his father, Kim Jong-il, died after a 17-year dictatorship.

   Kim, said to be have been educated in Switzerland, appears to have consolidated his grip on power, but his leadership remains largely untested.

   There have been no significant signs of North Korea changing its course towards reform under his rule.

   He pressed ahead with a long-range rocket launch in April, less than two months after a deal with the U.S. to suspend some of his regime's nuclear and missile activities.

   In a possible show of his interest in American culture, Pyongyang's tightly controlled state media showed Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters prancing at a performance attended by Kim.

   In 2011, "The Protester" was named Time's Person of the Year. The magazine said dissidents across the Middle East, Europe and the U.S. heavily affected global politics.

   Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg got the honor a year earlier.


S. Korea, China to Beef up Efforts to Stabilize Korean Peninsula

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea and China shared the view that there should be no situations creating instability on the Korean Peninsula, Seoul's top nuclear envoy said on Nov. 30 ahead of North Korea's possible missile test.

   Speculation is growing that North Korea is gearing up for another long-range missile test in the coming weeks ahead of Seoul's presidential election in December.

   "South Korea and China shared the view that they will strengthen their efforts to stabilize the Korean Peninsula," Lim Sung-nam, Seoul's chief negotiator to the six-party talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear ambitions, told Yonhap News Agency.

   His remarks came after he returned to Seoul following a two-day visit to China, his first trip to Beijing since Xi Jinping was officially named as the new leader of China earlier this month.

   Lim held talks with his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei, discussing how to cooperate with each other in responding to Pyongyang's possible missile launch, according to Seoul officials.

   Recent satellite images suggested that the North could test-fire a long-range missile as activities at North Korea's launch site on its west coast have increased. Experts say that a launch may come in two to three weeks.

   In April, the North raised tensions by firing off a long-range rocket, the first missile launch since the start of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's regime, though the move ended in failure.

   "China said that it will beef up its strategic partnership with South Korea," Lim said, adding that Beijing will continue to keep its stance on focusing on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

   The six-party talks, which bring 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.


North Korea's Crop Import from China Dip 62 Pct in October

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's crop imports from China plunged 62 percent in October from a year earlier, data showed on Dec. 1, spawning speculation Pyongyang's crop yield was not hit as hard by floods this year as was predicted.

   According to the data compiled by the Korea Rural Economic Institute (KREI) in Seoul, North Korea imported 22,331 tons of crops such as flour, rice, corn and bean in October from its neighboring country, compared with 59,369 tons a year earlier.

   The October figure was also down 38 percent from the previous month, according to the data.

   In the first 10 months of the year, the North imported a total of 239,325 tons of crops from its strongest ally, also down 23 percent from the 310,106 tons a year earlier, the data showed.
The data followed projections North Korea's crop yield would plunge this year, due mainly to unfavorable weather conditions that swept the country in late-summer, exacerbating the chronic food shortage in the poverty-stricken nation.

   Hundreds of people were killed and went missing in heavy downpours that swept through large parts of North Korea during this year's summer rain season.

   The floods between mid-June and late August also destroyed farmlands, thousands of houses and affected roughly 300,000 residents, the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported earlier.

   North Korea imported a total of 376,431 tons of crops from China last year, following 313,694 tons in 2010 and 203,390 tons in 2009, according to the data.


S. Korean Group Delivers Relief Aid to N. Korea Amid Tension

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A South Korean relief organization said on Dec. 4 it has sent food and clothes to North Korea, despite escalating tension on the peninsula in light of the socialist nation's preparations for a rocket launch.

   The Seoul-based Christian relief group, whose Korean name translates as the Sharing Movement Between South and North Korea for Peace and Unification, shipped goods worth 300 million won (US$276,800), including beef soup, children's apparel and soybean milk, group officials said. The items were donated by Korean companies or purchased with donated funds.

   The goods will be delivered to the North via the Chinese port city of Dalian near the border with the socialist state, the group said, without giving the expected date of arrival.

   Shin Myung-chul, the group's director, said humanitarian efforts should continue separately from relations between the two Koreas.

   "Regardless of inter-Korean relations, I think we have to send (relief aid) to feed and dress children," Shin said, noting the group plans to send another shipment of socks and underwear for children two weeks later.

   The latest aid shipment comes at a time of heightened tension after Pyongyang on Dec. 1 announced it will launch a rocket sometime between Dec. 10 and 22, which is widely seen as a cover for testing ballistic missile technology.

   The North fired off a rocket in April, but it ended in failure.


Weapons development equals 3 years of food for N. Koreans: Seoul

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The money spent on North Korea's nuclear and missile development since the late 1990s is estimated to be enough to buy three years of food for its people suffering from chronic food shortages, a senior military official in Seoul said on Dec. 5.

   The socialist state has spent about US$2.8 billion-US$3.2 billion since the first long-range rocket launch in 1998, which can buy 9.3 million-10.6 million tons of corn to feed its 24 million people for up to three years, the official said, assuming corn costs $300 per ton.

   "The (South Korean) government estimated the cost based on consultations with domestic and international research organizations, and it has been used by other government agencies," the ministry official said.

   It is the first time that the Seoul government has provided a comprehensive analysis on the cost of its archrival's missile and nuclear program, including those still under development.

   Some $1.7 billion of the total cost was spent on building missile research centers, launch pads, ballistic missiles and satellites, while developing and testing nuclear weapons and building facilities have cost $1.1 billion-$1.5 billion, the estimate revealed.

   The North conducted two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, and has fired off four long-range rockets since 1998, with the latest attempt in April ending in failure.

   Preparations are now in full swing to fire off another rocket sometime between Dec. 10-22 on its northwestern tip, which would be the second attempt under Kim Jong-un. The young leader took power nearly a year ago following the death of his father Kim Jong-il.

   Pyongyang has already placed all three stages of the long-range rocket on the launch pad, according to government sources, in defiance of international calls to drop the plan seen as a cover for testing its ballistic missile technology.

   The isolated state has suffered chronic food shortages under its command economy, with the situation exacerbated by floods, droughts and mismanagement. During a famine in the mid to late-1990s, hundreds of thousands died.