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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 256 (April 4, 2013)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

North Korea Adopts New Strategy for Economic Construction, Nuclear Development

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has adopted a new strategic line that calls for building a stronger economy and an nuclear arsenal so that the country will emerge as "a great political, military and socialist economic power."

   The "new strategic line" was adopted on March 31 when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presided over a plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party of (North) Korea (WPK).

   The Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the WPK convened its plenary meeting and adopted the new strategic policy line for simultaneously pursuing the two objectives, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

   "The plenary meeting set forth a new strategic line on carrying out economic construction and building nuclear armed forces simultaneously under the prevailing situation and to meet the legitimate requirement of the developing revolution," the KCNA said.

   "This line is a brilliant succession and development onto a new higher stage of the original line of simultaneously developing the economy and national deference that was set forth and had been fully embodied by the great Generalissimos (Kim Il-sung)," it added.

   The KCNA said that the North's nuclear weapons are not a "political bargaining chip" nor a "thing for economic dealings," saying that the nuclear armed forces are its "life, which can never be abandoned as long as imperialists and nuclear threats exist on earth."

   It added that the North's possession of nuclear weapons "should be fixed by law," and that its nuclear armed forces should be "expanded and beefed up qualitatively and quantitatively until the denuclearization of the world is realized."

   This comes a day after the North ratcheted up its saber-rattling by saying that it is in a "state of war" with South Korea.

   Tensions have been spiking between the two Koreas, particularly since Pyongyang conducted its nuclear test in February and the U.N. subsequently tightened its sanctions against the North.

   The following day on April 1, the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), North Korea's parliament, convened its session and approved laws and ordinances in support of the WPK's plenary meeting decision. This is where all committee members discuss domestic and international policies and reshuffle the party's power elites.

   The KCNA reported that North Korea's nuclear weapons are a "treasure of a reunified country" not to be traded for "billions of dollars."

   For Kim Jong-un, the March 31 meeting was the first time he presided over the committee meeting, which convenes the top decision-making body tasked with organizing and guiding the party's major projects.

   The plenary statement also called for strengthening the moribund economy, a plan Kim has emphasized in his public statements since taking power. The U.N. says two-thirds of the country's 24 million people face regular food shortages.

   To achieve their goals, the meeting proposed specific tasks, including an increase in productivity in basic industries, stabilizing the livelihoods of the people through boosting the agriculture and light industries, developing a nuclear-powered industry and proceeding with the light water reactor development project.

   In September 2010, North Korea held a meeting, under the leadership of late leader Kim Jong-il, for a party reshuffle ahead of his successor Kim Jong-un's rule. It was the first time for the ruling party to have the meeting under the rule of Kim Jong-un.

   Some promotions for high-ranking officials were also announced. Pak Pong-ju, director of light industry management of the ruling party, was named a member of the Political Bureau under the committee. The following day, Pak was named the Cabinet Premier at the Supreme People's Assembly session held on April 1. Pak reportedly was sacked as premier in 2007 after proposing a wage system seen as too similar to U.S.-style capitalism.

   Hyon Yong-chol, chief of the general staff of the army; Choe Pu-il, minister of people's security; and Kim Kyok-sik, minister of defense, were appointed alternative members of the bureau.

   Jang Song-thaek, the powerful guardian and uncle of leader Kim Jong-un, was sitting left of the young leader during the meeting, along with other high-ranking officials such as Kim Yong-nam, presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly. Jang has not appeared in the North's state media recently.

   Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute think tank in South Korea, said in his analysis report that the two-track strategy of Kim Jong-un appears to be similar to that of the North's founder Kim Il-sung.

   "The founder, grandfather of Jong-un, announced his plans for economic development and national security in 1962, when he convened the same meeting of the committee," Cheong said. And that was different from his father Kim Jong-il's strategy, which sacrificed economy for his so-called "military-first" policy.

   Still, Cheong said Kim Jong-un could show some reformist moves in the economy through promoting Pak. "Pak, who is known as a reformist in the party, was promoted, and he could steer the overall policy of the North Korean economy," Cheong said.

   North Korea's parliament sessions, which usually are held to approve personnel changes and budget and fiscal plans, are scrutinized by the outside world for signs of key changes in policy and leadership.

   At a session last April, Kim Jong-un was made first chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission, the body's top post.

   The parliamentary session also amended laws and ordinance on consolidating the position of being a nuclear weapons state for self defense; adopting the law on developing space science and the setting up of a state space development bureau.

   The SPA session also reviewed the fulfillment of the state budget for last year and approved the state budget for this year.

   At the parliamentary session, a reporter said that "this year's tasks are to realize at an early date the lifetime desire of President Kim Il-sung and leader Kim Jong-il, who devoted their whole lives to putting the country's economy on the level of a prosperous and powerful country and to making the people live with no more to desire in the world."

   According to the report, this year the Cabinet will organize economic work with the main emphasis on solving issues arising in the people's lives by shoring up pilot fields, consolidating the springboard for building an economic power and concentrating all efforts on agriculture and light industry while regarding the coal industry and metal industries as key fields.

   As soon as the country adopted the new strategic line, North Korea vowed on April 2 to restart its graphite-moderated nuclear reactor to extract plutonium for nuclear weapons, breaching its 2007 agreement and inviting international criticism.

   The KCNA said the regime would "adjust and change its existing nuclear facilities" in line with its new two-pronged policy, citing a spokesman for the North's General Department of Atomic Energy.

   "This applies to uranium enrichment plants and all other facilities at the Yongbyon nuclear complex and includes refurbishing and reactivating the 5-megawatt graphite-moderated reactor that was halted and disabled according to the six-party agreement in October 2007," it said.

   "Ahead of our atomic energy field is the critical task of resolving the country's strained electricity supply by developing a self-reliant nuclear power industry, and expanding and reinforcing nuclear forces until the world's denuclearization is realized."

   The announcement came a day after North Korea adopted a statement putting nuclear programs and economic development at the top of the national agenda during the latest parliamentary session.

   This will likely spur concern in South Korea and the U.S. following Pyongyang's daily threats including warnings of nuclear strikes targeting their territories.

   Established in 1986, the reactor had been used to reprocess spent fuel rods to extract plutonium as the fissile material for its atomic weapons and was closed as part of an agreement of the six-nation denuclearization talks in 2007.

   The resumption process is expected to take a year including re-erecting the cooling tower and recovering reprocessing equipment, another government official said on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

   If fully restored, reprocessing its some 8,000 fuel rods that are used in one year could yield about 7 kilograms of plutonium, sufficient to make at least one fission bomb a year, experts say.

   The regime began installing a 50-megawatt and 200-megawatt reactor in 1984 but their construction was suspended after its 1994 deal with the U.S.