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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 247 (January 31, 2013)

U.S. Envoy Warns N. Korea against Conducting Nuclear Test

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A special envoy from Washington warned Pyongyang on Jan. 24 against conducting a nuclear test, minutes before North Korea threatened to carry out an atomic test and more rocket launches directed at the United States in retaliation to toughened U.N. sanctions.

   "Whether North Korea tests or not, it's up to North Korea. We hope they don't do it, we call on them not to do it. It will be a mistake and a missed opportunity if they were to do it," said Glyn Davies, the U.S. special envoy on North Korea policy, when asked about the possibility of a nuclear test by North Korea.

   "This is not a moment to increase tensions on the Korean Peninsula. This is the opportunity (for North Korea) to seize the moment" to engage with the outside world, Davies said.

   Davies spoke to reporters in Seoul after meeting with his South Korean counterpart, Lim Sung-nam, Seoul's chief envoy to the stalled six-party talks aimed at persuading the North to give up its nuclear weapons ambition.

   Before the meeting, Lim told Davies that a "close consultation between you and me, between Seoul and Washington, will be very important in this period of political transition here and beyond, and that will be our common asset in dealing with North Korea and the North Korean nuclear issue."

   Asked whether South Korea and the U.S. were considering additional bilateral sanctions against North Korea, Davies replied that the allies will focus on "implementing provisions of sanctions by the U.N. Security Council, and then, we will take a look at what further steps might be necessary."

   Minutes after Davies' remarks, the North's powerful National Defense Commission ratcheted up its threat of a nuclear test.

   "We do not hide that the various satellites and long-range rockets we will continue to launch, as well as the high-level nuclear test we will proceed with, are aimed at our arch-enemy the United States," the North's defense commission said in a statement carried by the KCNA.

   It didn't say when it would detonate a nuclear device or what a "high-level" nuclear test might be, but Seoul's intelligence officials said Wednesday that North Korea has completed all technical preparations for a nuclear test and one could be carried out in a few days if the communist country makes the decision to do so.

   Seoul's foreign ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young expressed deep regret at the North's threat of conducting a nuclear test.

   "The government deeply regrets that North Korea made such a statement and we again strongly urge North Korea not to make any further provocations, including a nuclear test," Cho told reporters in a regular press briefing.
North Korea angrily responded to the U.N. resolution that widened sanctions in response to the North's December rocket launch, saying it will strengthen its "nuclear deterrence."

   Intelligence officials said North Korea had dug a tunnel for a test at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site, but the tunnel has now been plugged with dirt and concrete, suggesting that all measuring and other equipment has already been installed inside.

   North Korea had detonated nuclear devices at the Punggye-ri test site in 2006 and 2009, following long-range rocket launches.


'Command Bunker' Sighted at North Korea's Nuclear Test Site

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A fortified installation, believed to be a "command bunker," has been found at North Korea's nuclear test site where the country may likely conduct another nuclear test soon, a U.S. think tank said on Jan. 25.

   According to "38 North", an analysis program of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, the "command bunker" is located about 150 meters from the entrance to a tunnel that may be used to carry out the nuclear test.

   The Punggye-ri test site on the North's northeastern coastal region is where the country conducted its first and second underground nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

   Based on its analysis of satellite imagery, the institute said, the fortified installation is believed to have been built to house monitoring and other communications equipment and protect engineers and other personnel involved in nuclear tests.

   Also sighted near the bunker is a radio relay station apparently for quick communications contact with the leadership in Pyongyang, it said.

   Judging by the amount of digging and excavation work, the reinforced facility may be about 92.9 square meters, the institute said, adding that construction might have begun after 2005.

   It said photos taken in December showed a well-maintained road west of the bunker.

   South Korean experts said that if there is a lot of activities around the bunker, this can be an indication that the North is close to conducting its third nuclear test.

   Following a punitive resolution adopted by the U.N. Security Council on Jan. 23, North Korea issued a string of warnings that it would build up its nuclear deterrence that would mainly target the United States.


U.S. Calls for Unified Response to North Korea's 'Negative Choices'

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- As North Korea's young leader, Kim Jong-un, continues to make wrong choices, it's very important for the international community to stay united against Pyongyang, the U.S. State Department official said on Jan. 25.

   "It's really a pretty sad story, because the new North Korean leader has a choice to make, as the secretary has said so many times," department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a press briefing.

   Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has consistently called for Kim to make a right choice to break his nation's isolation and feed hungry people there instead of pursuing weapons development programs.

   Since taking power in December 2011, Kim, believed to be in his late 20s, has been taking a provocative direction -- two long-range rocket tests and unrelenting military threats.

   Earlier, Pyongyang said it would conduct another nuclear test and continue to launch missiles targeting the U.S. in retaliation for new U.N. sanctions on the communist regime.

   The North also threatened to take unspecified "physical countermeasures" if the South joins sanctions on it.

   The pattern of Pyongyang's choices is of concern, Nuland said. "That's why it's been so important to keep the international community united in response to these negative choices."

   She agreed that China's role is crucial.

   "They have, at various times, been able to make clear that the continued support of Beijing in terms of trade, aid, the energy relationship, etc., depends on North Korea making the right choices," Nuland said. "Obviously, North Korea remains quite dependent on its aid and trade relationship with Beijing."

   She noted that China gave a nod to a new U.N. Security Council resolution against North Korea for its December rocket launch.


N. Korea Forecast to Adopt Provocative Policy toward S. Korea This Year

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea may use provocations this year as a means of attempting to tame Seoul's new government that will take office in February, a state-run think tank said on Jan. 27.

   Pyongyang may first adopt a wait-and-see stance before determining the intent of president-elect Park Geun-hye's policies toward the North, the Institute for National Security Strategy, a research arm of the National Intelligent Service, said in a report. If the North decides the new policies in Seoul are not favorable, it may lash out at the South, the institute added.

   The report came amid growing speculation that Pyongyang may conduct an internationally condemned nuclear test in the coming months.

   In a series of recent statements, Pyongyang alluded to its plan to detonate a nuclear device in response to the United Nations' adoption of a resolution last week, which extended sanctions against the country for its Dec. 12 test of a long-range rocket. The outside world suspected the rocket launch was a cover for testing its ballistic missile technology.

   The U.N. sanctions may make it difficult for the South and the North to mend ties at least during the early part of 2013, the report predicted.

   The report also predicted that the North will face difficulties in the country's ongoing drive to turn its weak economy into a powerful one.

   The country introduced the so-called "June 28" economic reform measures last year as part of its push to better the livelihoods of North Korean citizens. Its reform goals, however, remain unfulfilled due to difficulties stemming from the lack of resources and energy as well noncooperation from economic officials, the report said, adding Pyongyang may keep trying to expand the June 28 reform measures.

   The think tank also anticipated that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may pay his first visit to China sometime during the first half of this year as part of the country's widening efforts to step up economic cooperation and partnership.

   Moreover, the health condition of Kim Kyong-hui, the powerful aunt and guardian of Kim Jong-un, may be one overriding element in managing the stability of Kim's fledgling regime in the coming three-to-five years, it also said.

   The report said the incoming South Korean government of Park needs a two-track approach that mixes a stern policy to stop the North's provocations as well as a flexible stance to resume talks with Pyongyang.


Absence of N.K. Leader's Uncle Sparks Speculation over Internal Power Game

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The absence of Jang Song-thaek, uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, at a key national security meeting may be a sign of a renewed power game inside the reclusive communist nation's leadership, a U.S. expert said on Jan. 27.

   Jang, vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, did not attend the meeting of top North Korean officials handling security and foreign affairs, in which Kim ordered "substantial and high-profile important state measures," according to Pyongyang's official media.

   Kim recently convened the meeting, viewed as North Korea's equivalent of the U.S. National Security Council, to discuss the impact of new U.N. sanctions imposed on his regime for the Dec. 12 rocket launch and Pyongyang's response. The North's media stopped short of specifying the date and venue for the meeting.

   "In my judgment, Jang's glaring absence was significant, signaling the emergence of a possible crack in the senior leadership, especially in the relationship between Kim Jong-un and his all-powerful uncle," Alexandre Mansourov, a specialist on North Korea told Yonhap News Agency. He has monitored North Korea issues for decades.

   He raised the possibility of divergent approaches between Kim and Jang to the North's international strategy, especially in regard to the issue of a nuclear test and ways to cope with international sanctions.

   "As the perceived 'China man in Pyongyang,' Jang may be deliberately staying out of Kim Jong-un's decisions on such a controversial issue as nuclear testing, which is objected by China, in order to preserve 'clean hands' and his good standing in Beijing," he added.

   If that is not the case, national security and foreign policy may not be part of Jang's portfolio yet, said Mansourov, who now works at CENTRA Global Access, a strategic consulting firm. He also works as visiting scholar at the U.S.-Korea Institute of Johns Hopkins University in Washington D.C.

   Mansourov also suggested the young North Korean leader, just more than a year into power, might have begun to nudge his uncle out of important policy deliberations, he said.

   Mansourov, who once studied in Pyongyang, admitted to the lack of information on the country's inner circles and the difficulty of predicting what will happen.

   More clues are expected in the coming weeks or months on whether Pyongyang will go ahead with a nuclear test and news of Jang's public activity, he said.

   Mansourov said it's also unclear whether the security and foreign policy meeting, chaired by Kim, is an ad hoc group convened only once on a special occasion or a standing decision-making council.

   Seven other participants in the session included two top military officials -- Choe Ryong-hae and Hyon Yong-chol -- and Kim Kye-gwan, first vice foreign minister. North Korea's official news agency, the KCNA, released several photos of the gathering, along with a written report, on Jan. 27 (Korea time).

   "What is also eye-catching is the absence of such well-known DPRK (North Korea) foreign policy heavyweights as Kim Yong-nam, president of Supreme People's Assembly, Vice Premier Kang Sok-ju and Kim Yang-gon, Workers' Party secretary for South Korea," Mansourov said.


N. Korea Using U.N. Sanctions to Unite Public Opinion behind Leadership

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is using U.N. sanctions to unify public opinion behind the leadership and strengthen allegiance to the state, observers said on Jan. 28.

   Observers in Seoul said Pyongyang places the utmost importance on the solidarity of the people whether it is in the pursuit of its "songun" or military-first politics or to build up the economy. They said recent media reports of foreign threats and the need to defend the sovereignty and dignity of the country is a move in this direction.
Incumbent leader Kim Jong-un has emphasized the importance of economic growth, while his late father placed greater emphasis on the military. North Korea's current leader took power after the sudden death of Kim Jong-in in late 2011.

   "The sudden flood of articles and stories highlighting external threats can be construed as a sign that Pyongyang wants to prop up Kim Jong-un's weak public support base as well as the overall leadership," a North Korean watcher said.

   Others said that a spike in media reports calling on the people to defend North Korea's independence may be a tell-tale sign that Kim Jong-un's hold on power may not be strong as some predicted.

   Reflecting these views, media outlets such as the Rodong Sinmun, an organ of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, Radio Pyongyang and the KCNA, all claimed that the people are reacting strongly to calls by the powerful National Defense Commission on Jan. 24. The commission said future nuclear and rocket tests will have the United States in mind.

   Rodong Sinmun said in an article in its Jan. 28 edition that the U.N. sanctions have fueled the firm conviction and will of the armed forces and the general public to defend the country.

   The newspaper said that the all-out confrontation that can occur is a holy nationalist war.

   Similar views were expressed by Radio Pyongyang on Jan. 27, which pointed out that the only way to deal with the United States and other outside hostile forces is to follow the military first policy.

   The KCNA said on Jan. 26 that foreign forces have hindered efforts to divert more attention to economic development and warned that as long as adversaries try to weaken the country, Pyongyang has no choice but to focus on the military.

   The media reports come as the North's foreign ministry, the defense commission and the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland all issued statements last week denouncing the U.N. sanctions and emphasizing the country's resolve to build up its capability to defend itself.

   Meanwhile, South Korean officials have warned the North not to detonate another nuclear device. If they do detonate a nuclear device, it will be difficult to engage in inter-Korean dialogue and economic exchange, they said.

   Seoul military and diplomatic sources have speculated that the communist country can conduct a nuclear test if the leadership gives its approval. Pyongyang detonated two nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009, in the face of international condemnation.