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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 272 (July 25, 2013)

2013/07/25 10:33


Biden: U.S. Will Not Countenance N. Korea's Provocation-dialogue Cycle

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called on July 18 on North Korea to demonstrate that it is willing to hold "genuine" talks on its nuclear program.

"Now North Korea is calling for dialogue," he said in a speech here on Washington's strategy on the Asia-Pacific region.

"As my mother would say, 'I've seen this movie before,'" he quipped. "We've been there before. But we are ready, we are ready, but only, only if North Korea's prepared to engage in genuine negotiations."

   He emphasized Washington would not countenance Pyongyang's pattern of provoking a crisis and then insisting they be rewarded in order to cease and desist from the actions.

"We've been there before, only to find that once they've gotten the space or the aid they need, they return to the same provocative, dangerous behavior and continue their nuclear march," Biden said at a forum hosted by the Center for American Progress.

His remarks represent the Barack Obama administration's firm stance to test North Korea's commitment to denuclearization before any talks resume.

After months of provocations and threats earlier this year, North Korea has shifted to a peace offensive. It has proposed direct high-level talks with the U.S. regardless of time and venue.

But the U.S. said the North first should take some steps towards denuclearization such as the return of international inspectors to its main nuclear site at Yongbyon.

U.S. officials apparently believe they have been fooled by the North Koreans into agreeing to some political and economic incentives, mostly recently the so-called Leap Day Deal.

In February last year, the U.S. agreed to provide 240,000 tons of food aid to North Korea in return for its promise to suspend uranium enrichment and impose a moratorium on long-range rocket tests. Two months later, however, the North fired what it claims to be a space rocket.

"Make no mistake about it, though; we are open to engaging with any nation that's prepared to live up to its international obligations," Biden said. "That's what we did in Burma, and I think most would say we're already seeing some tangible benefits from that engagement."

   The vice president spoke highly of Chinese President Xi Jinping's statement that his country places a priority on achieving the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

"We welcome that firm assertion," he said.

Xi had two days of meetings with President Barack Obama in California last month, during which they agreed on the goal of a denuclearized Korea.


U.N. to Send US$6 Mln in Emergency Aid to North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The United Nations has decided to provide North Korea with US$6 million in emergency aid by the end of this year, a report said on July 18, in a bid to relieve fund shortages at U.N. agencies operating in the isolated country.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told the Washington-based Voice of America (VOA) that U.N. bodies operating in the North will receive this aid through a pool of reserve funding known as the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

The CERF was established in 2006 to provide quick assistance to countries in severe humanitarian crises. Funded by donations from governments, the private sector, foundations and individuals, it already allocated $7 million to North Korea this January in an attempt to boost humanitarian efforts in neglected countries.

Under the new plan, the six U.N. agencies operating in North Korea will negotiate with the resident coordinator of the U.N. Development Programme in Pyongyang to come up with a detailed list of expenditures, the report said.

The announcement comes after five out of the 14 food processing factories in the impoverished country were reportedly shut down in June due to grain shortages, hurting ongoing efforts to nourish people in the communist country.

As of May, OCHA said it had received just over 17 percent of the $147 million needed to operate U.N. agencies in the North this year. In 2012, it allocated a total of $12.92 million from its CERF funding to North Korea.


Germany's Paulaner Spurns N. Korean Leader's Request for Beer Garden

BERLIN (Yonhap) -- A German brewer has spurned a request by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to open a beer garden and brewery in his isolated socialist country, a news report said.

Paulaner Brewery said it did not consider opening a biergarten in North Korea, according to Bild, Germany's biggest-selling daily, on its website on July 18.

The Munich-based brewery said its capacity is stretched thin because it plans to open beer gardens in 12 new locations, including one in the United States and two others in Russia, Moscow and St. Petersburg, according to the daily.

The newspaper did not give details on when and how Kim made the offer.

North Korean diplomats in Berlin were not immediately reached for comment.

The report comes a week after the U.N. food agency said North Korea needs outside food assistance to feed 2.8 million vulnerable citizens out of its 24 million people __ the latest sign of chronic food shortages.

"An estimated 2.8 million vulnerable people require food assistance until the next harvest in October," the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said in a report last week.

North Korea has its own brand of beer, Taedonggang, named after the river that flows through the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, though it was mostly out of reach for ordinary North Koreans due to its high price, according to North Korean defectors settled in South Korea.

In 2009, the North's state television aired commercials that showed young women in traditional clothing serving frothy mugs of 'Taedong River beer,' billed as the "Pride of Pyongyang."



North Korean Defectors in South Korea on the Rrise

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The annual number of North Korean defectors seeking refuge in South Korea, which had been dropping since 2009, took an upturn in the first half of this year, government data showed on July 21.

A total of 717 defectors came to live in South Korea in the first half, slightly up from 710 a year ago, according to a tally by the Ministry of Unification.

North Korea defectors arriving in the South had increased annually to reach 2,929 in 2009, after topping 1,000 for the first time in 2001. But the sum has since dropped drastically with last year's figure half the level of 2011's 2,706.

But it was not until the second quarter of this year that the number took an upturn, according to the ministry.

"The number of defectors entering South Korea typically declines during winter season and rises again when weather gets warmer," a ministry official said.

Some analysts say the recent rise comes as the Lao government's forcible deportation of nine young North Korean defectors to their totalitarian homeland in May prompted a massive arrival of other defectors who were hiding in third countries.

Tens of thousands of North Koreans have fled their homeland in recent decades to escape political oppression and chronic poverty. Many of them travel through China, Thailand, Laos and other Southeast Asian countries before resettling in the South, now home to more than 25,000 North Korean defectors, according to government data.


Experts from S. Korea, U.S., China Discuss Ways to Revive 6-Party Talks

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Foreign policy think tanks from South Korea, the United States and China held a joint meeting in Seoul on July 22 as the three countries looked for ways to coordinate their policies on denuclearizing North Korea, Seoul officials said.

In the so-called "Track 1.5" meeting held in southern Seoul, researchers from the three countries focused on finding concerted ways to bring the North back to the negotiating table for denuclearization, according to the officials.

The experts all reasserted their countries' positions not to tolerate North Korea's possession of nuclear arms, but the U.S. and Chinese sides set forth different formulas for making the North give up its nuclear programs, the officials said.

The U.S. is seeking to put more pressure on the North as well as step up sanctions and efforts to open talks with the socialist country, while China wants North Korea to have room for making its own decision to return to the negotiating table, the officials quoted the experts as saying.

The six-party talks, designed to persuade the North to discard its nuclear programs, ground to a halt in December 2008 after the North walked out of the dialogue in protest against the United Nations' condemnation of the North's banned rocket launch.

The North Korean regime, under new leader Kim Jong-un who took office in late 2011, has recently shown interest in reviving the multilateral dialogue that involves South Korea, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan.

South Korea's Korea National Diplomatic Academy hosted the meeting with the Center for Strategic and International Studies from the U.S. and the China Institute of International Studies.

Lee Do-hoon, Seoul's deputy chief envoy to the six-party talks, joined the semi-governmental-level meeting, along with his counterparts -- Robert Rapson, the director for Korean affairs at the U.S. State Department and China's Minister Counselor Chen Hai.

The government officials did not present official stances there, but took the meeting as an opportunity to gather policy ideas, according to the officials.

"Through the recent summits among South Korea, the U.S. and China, they found a common ground in (viewing) the Korean Peninsula, the denuclearization issue and stability in Northeast Asia," Yun Duk-min, the head of the South Korean think tank, said in the opening remarks for the meeting. This cooperative momentum should be kept afloat, he added.


N. Korea Halts Work on Long-range Rocket Launch Site: Think Tank

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has halted all new construction at a long-range rocket launch facility on its east coast, a U.S. think tank said on July 23, citing recent satellite imagery.

According to 38 North, an analysis program of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, no construction work has been carried out at the Musudan-ri facility for the past eight months.

The facility, also called the Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground, was designed to handle rockets larger than the Unha-3 space launch vehicle (SLV). The launch last December of the SLV with a range rivaling that of existing intercontinental ballistic missiles triggered international condemnation and fueled tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

No marked difference was shown between recent satellite imagery and past photos from space of the Musudan-ri site. If construction were complete, the site would have a launch pad, rocket assembly building and control center.

The think tank also said that work had slowed and then stopped late last year, with most North Korea watchers expecting construction to restart in May.

"Exactly why construction has halted remains unclear," 38 North said, but it speculated that Pyongyang may have considered that making better use of the already completed Sohae Satellite Launching Station on its west coast was a better management decision considering the country's limited resources.

The Sohae station does have facilities to support the development of rockets larger than the Unha-3s.


N. Koreans Nabbed for Smuggling Medicine in Mongolia

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Koreans carrying diplomatic passports were caught smuggling medicine by Mongolian customs officials, a report said on July 23.

The UB Post monitored in Seoul said two people caught were on an international train running between Beijing and Ulan Bator. It gave no names, but said inspectors discovered large amounts of products in their baggage, including a thousand boxes of injection medicine, 12 boxes of bear spleen products and 20 bottles of alcoholic beverages.

The English language newspaper said those implicated in the illegal transport could not be identified as being incumbent North Korean diplomats.

The cash-strapped North has used its diplomats in the past to smuggle goods. From 2009 onwards, three cases have been reported with the last scandal involving a diplomat stationed in Pakistan, who was caught trying to sell alcohol.

A diplomatic observer said if the two people who are currently being questioned by Mongolian police are real diplomats it could sour relations between Pyongyang and Ulan Bator.


N. Korea Steps up War Anniversary Prep amid Food Shortage

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is stepping up preparations for extravagant celebrations for a war anniversary despite a worsening food shortage and growing number of soldiers deserting their units, sources familiar with the matter said on July 24.

The North has been preparing a large military parade and various events across the nation to mark the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended hostilities of the Korean War on July 27, 1953.

It is celebrated as "Day of Victory in the Fatherland Liberation War" in the communist state to praise founder Kim Il-sung's achievements during the conflict.

Except for those in the showy capital Pyongyang, North Korean families are suffering from food scarcity, and flood damage from recent torrential rain is expected to worsen the problem, according to multiple sources.

Under the communist system, people living in the cities rely on a public distribution system for their staples.

"Provincial regions except Pyongyang have been suffering a worsening food shortage this year," a senior government source said, asking for anonymity. "There are several cases in which soldiers have deserted their military units and families have gone missing."

   For example, a North Korean soldier serving in a front-line unit was shot by his colleague in May when he was caught stealing six potatoes, another source said.

"The number of army deserters doesn't go down as troops carry out drills regardless of the bad food situation," the source said.

Senior military officials have been inspecting front-line troops by helicopters before large-scale summer exercises get into full swing next month, while authorities have tightened their noose on people to prevent them from fleeing to China in search of food, the source said.

To make matters worse, torrential rain has caused severe damage in North Korea, submerging farmland, homes and military units. The North's Korean Central News Agency reported Monday that heavy rains have killed five people and left more than 23,000 people homeless between July 17-20.

Soldiers in Hwanghae Province and Gangwon Province are currently restoring their lodging places and fences collapsed by heavy rain, he added.

Poor weather makes it harder for the communist state to feed its 24 million population as it lacks advanced agricultural technology and infrastructure.