DPRK (North Korea) Chronology for 2015


DPRK (NORTH KOREA) CHRONOLOGY FOR 2015
Compiled by
Leon V. Sigal
Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project
Contact:


1/1/15:
Kim Jong-un’s New Year address: “Seventy years have passed since our nation was divided by outside forces. In those decades the world has made a tremendous advance and the times have undergone dramatic changes, but our nation has not yet achieved reunification, suffering the pain of division. It is a deplorable fact known to everyone and it is lamentable to everyone. No longer can we bear and tolerate the tragedy of national division that has continued century after century. Last year we put forward crucial proposals for improved inter-Korean relations and national reunification and made sincere efforts for their implementation. Our efforts, however, could not bear due fruit owing to the obstructive moves by the anti-reunification forces within and without; instead the north-south relations have been on a headlong rush to aggravation. However complicated the situation may be and whatever obstacles and difficulties may stand in our way, we should unfailingly achieve national reunification, a lifetime wish of the President and the General and the greatest desire of the nation, and build a dignified and prosperous reunified country on this land.” Let the whole nation join efforts to open up a broad avenue to independent reunification in this year of the 70th anniversary of national liberation!”-this is the slogan of struggle the entire Korean nation should hold up. We should remove the danger of war, ease the tension and create a peaceful environment on the Korean peninsula. The large-scale war games ceaselessly held every year in south Korea are the root cause of the escalating tension on the peninsula and the danger of nuclear war facing our nation. It is needless to say that there can be neither trustworthy dialogue nor improved inter-Korean relations in such a gruesome atmosphere in which war drills are staged against the dialogue partner.To cling to nuclear war drills against the fellow countrymen in collusion with aggressive outside forces is an extremely dangerous act of inviting calamity. We will resolutely react against and mete out punishment to any acts of provocation and war moves that infringe upon the sovereignty and dignity of our country. The south Korean authorities should discontinue all war moves including the reckless military exercises they conduct with foreign forces and choose to ease the tension on the Korean peninsula and create a peaceful environment. The United States, the very one that divided our nation into two and has imposed the suffering of national division upon it for 70 years, should desist from pursuing the anachronistic policy hostile towards the DPRK and reckless acts of aggression and boldly make a policy switch. The north and the south should refrain from seeking confrontation of systems while absolutizing their own ideologies and systems but achieve great national unity true to the principle of By Our Nation Itself to satisfactorily resolve the reunification issue in conformity with the common interests of the nation. If they try to force their ideologies and systems upon each other, they will never settle the national reunification issue in a peaceful way, only bringing confrontation and war. Though the people-centered socialist system of our own style is the most advantageous, we do not force it on south Korea and have never done so. The south Korean authorities should neither seek “unification of systems” that incites distrust and conflict between the north and the south nor insult the other side’s system and make impure solicitation to do harm to their fellow countrymen, travelling here and there. The north and the south, as they had already agreed, should resolve the national reunification issue in the common interests of the nation transcending the differences in ideology and system. They should briskly hold dialogue, negotiations and exchanges and make contact to relink the severed ties and blood vessels of the nation and bring about a great turn in inter-Korean relations. It is the unanimous desire of the fellow countrymen for both sides to stop fighting and pave a new way for reunification by concerted efforts. They should no longer waste time and energy over pointless arguments and trifling matters but write a new chapter in the history of inter-Korean relations. Nothing is impossible if our nation shares one purpose and joins efforts. On the road for reunification the north and the south had got such charter and great program for reunification as the July 4 Joint Statement, the historic June 15 Joint Declaration and the October 4 Declaration, thus demonstrating to the whole world the nation’s determination and mettle to reunify the country. We think that it is possible to resume the suspended high-level contacts and hold sectoral talks if the south Korean authorities are sincere in their stand towards improving inter-Korean relations through dialogue. And there is no reason why we should not hold a summit meeting if the atmosphere and environment for it are created. In the future, too, we will make every effort to substantially promote dialogue and negotiations. The entire Korean nation should turn out together in the nationwide movement for the country’s reunification so as to glorify this year as a landmark in opening up a broad avenue to independent reunification. Last year, in the international arena, hostilities and bloodshed persisted in several countries and regions due to the imperialists’ outrageous arbitrariness and undisguised infringement upon their sovereignty, which posed a serious threat to global peace and security. Especially, owing to the United States’ extremely hostile policy aimed at isolating and suffocating our Republic, the bulwark of socialism and fortress of independence and justice, the vicious cycle of tension never ceased and the danger of war grew further on the Korean peninsula. The United States and its vassal forces are resorting to the despicable “human rights” racket as they were foiled in their attempt to destroy our self-defensive nuclear deterrent and stifle our Republic by force. The present situation, in which high-handedness based on strength is rampant and justice and truth are trampled ruthlessly in the international arena, eloquently demonstrates that we were just in our efforts to firmly consolidate our self-reliant defense capability with the nuclear deterrent as its backbone and safeguard our national sovereignty, the lifeblood of the country, under the unfurled banner of Songun. As long as the enemy persists in its moves to stifle our socialist system, we will consistently adhere to the Songun politics and the line of promoting the two fronts simultaneously and firmly defend the sovereignty of the country and the dignity of the nation, no matter how the international situation and the structure of relations of our surrounding countries may change. On the basis of the revolutionary principles and independent stand, we will expand and develop foreign relations in a multilateral and positive way, giving top priority to the dignity and interests of the country.” (KCNA, “Kim Jong-un’s New Year Address,” January 1, 2015)


1/2/15:
The Obama administration doubled down on its allegation that
North Korea’s leadership was behind the hacking of Sony Pictures, announcing new, if largely symbolic, economic sanctions against 10 senior North Korean officials and the intelligence agency it said was the source of “many of North Korea’s major cyberoperations.” The actions were based on an executive order President Obama signed on vacation in Hawaii, as part of what he had promised would be a “proportional response” against the country. But in briefings for reporters, officials said they could not establish that any of the 10 officials had been directly involved in the destruction of much of the studio’s computing infrastructure. In fact, most seemed linked to the North’s missile and weapons sales. Two are senior North Korean representatives in Iran, a major buyer of North Korean military technology, and five others are representatives in Syria, Russia, China and Namibia. The administration has said there would be a covert element of its response as well. Officials sidestepped questions about whether the United States was involved in bringing down North Korea’s Internet connectivity to the outside world over the past two weeks. Perhaps the most noticeable element of the announcement was the administration’s effort to push back on the growing chorus of doubters about the evidence that the attack on Sony was North Korean in origin. Several cybersecurity firms have argued that when Mr. Obama took the unusual step of naming the North’s leadership — on December 19 the president declared that “North Korea engaged in this attack” — he had been misled by American intelligence agencies that were too eager to blame a longtime adversary and allowed themselves to be duped by ingenious hackers skilled at hiding their tracks. But Obama’s critics do not have a consistent explanation of who might have been culpable. Some blame corporate insiders or an angry former employee, a theory Sony Pictures’ top executive, Michael Lynton, has denied. Others say it was the work of outside hacking groups that were simply using the release of “The Interview” as cover for their actions. Both the F.B.I. and Mr. Obama’s aides used the sanctions announcement to argue that the critics of the administration’s decision to attribute the attack to North Korea have no access to the classified evidence that led the intelligence agencies, and Mr. Obama, to their conclusion. “We remain very confident in the attribution,” a senior administration official who has been at the center of the Sony case told reporters in a briefing that, under guidelines set by the White House, barred the use of the briefer’s name. Still, the administration is clearly stung by the comparisons to the George W. Bush administration’s reliance on faulty intelligence assessments about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 American-led invasion of the country. They note how rare it is for Mr. Obama, usually cautious on intelligence issues, to blame a specific country so directly. But they continue to insist that they cannot explain the basis of the president’s declaration without revealing some of the most sensitive sources and technologies at their disposal. By naming 10 individuals at the center of the North’s effort to sell or obtain weapons technology, the administration seemed to be trying to echo sanctions that the Bush administration imposed eight years ago against a Macao bank that the North Korean leadership used to buy goods illicitly and to reward loyalists. President Bush, speaking to reporters one evening in the White House, argued that those sanctions were the only ones that got the attention of Kim Jong-il, whose son has ruled the country since his death in 2011. In another sign of how Mr. Obama was seeking to punish individual leaders, the executive order he signed gives the Treasury Department broad authority to name anyone in the country’s leadership believed to be involved in illicit activity, and to take action against the Workers’ Party, which has complete control of North Korea’s politics. In a statement, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew suggested that the sanctions were intended not only to punish North Korea for the hacking of Sony — which resulted in the destruction of about three-quarters of the computers and servers at the studio’s main operations — but also to warn the country not to try anything like it again. “Today’s actions are driven by our commitment to hold North Korea accountable for its destructive and destabilizing conduct,” Lew said. “Even as the F.B.I. continues its investigation into the cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment, these steps underscore that we will employ a broad set of tools to defend U.S. businesses and citizens, and to respond to attempts to undermine our values or threaten the national security of the United States.” Beyond the initial sanctions, the power of the president’s order might come from its breadth and its use in the future. One senior official said the order would allow the Treasury to impose sanctions on any person who is an official of the North Korean government or of the Worker’s Party or anyone judged “controlled by the North Korean government” or acting on its behalf. Yet it is easy to overestimate the impact of sanctions. Six decades of efforts to isolate North Korea have not stopped it from building and testing a nuclear arsenal, launching terrorist attacks on the South, testing missiles or maintaining large prison camps. In addition, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, the country’s main intelligence organization, has long been under heavy sanctions for directing the country’s arms trade, including the Proliferation Security Initiative, an effort started by the Bush administration to intercept the sales of missiles and other arms. Still, the Treasury’s statement that “many of North Korea’s major cyberoperations run through R.G.B.” was more than has been said publicly about how the North Koreans structure their cyberoperations. And administration officials insisted again that the Sony attack “clearly crossed a threshold,” in the words of one senior official, from “website defacement and digital graffiti” to an attack on computer infrastructure. (David E. Sanger and Michael S. Schmidt, “More Sanctions on North Korea After Sony Case,” New York Times, January 3, 2015, p. A-1) The U.S. government is increasingly committed to publicly calling out foreign governments when there is evidence that they are responsible for cyberattacks, a senior Justice Department official said January 8. Once U.S. officials determined that North Korea was behind a massive intrusion at Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc., publicly announcing it was made part of the U.S. response, said Assistant Attorney General John Carlin, head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “We know you did it, and we’re going to say you did it,” Carlin said of the government’s approach. That decision, along with last year’s indictment of five Chinese military officials on charges of vast corporate espionage, is part of a new approach by the U.S. government to publicly identify foreign culprits behind digital attacks, Carlin said. Law enforcement is generally loath to point fingers at suspects before an arrest is made, and standard policy has long been to keep investigative details closely held. But the U.S. government increasingly sees value in speaking out publicly when there’s evidence a foreign government was responsible, according to Carlin and other officials. Carlin appeared at a cybersecurity conference at Fordham University in New York, where he and other Obama administration officials reaffirmed their conclusion that North Korea was responsible for the Sony hack in the face of continued skepticism from some independent experts. Some have suggested that the intrusion could have been the work of disgruntled employees or hackers unrelated to the North Korean government, but FBI officials have said there’s no credible evidence of an inside job or that anyone other than the isolated county was responsible. Lisa Monaco, President Obama’s homeland security adviser, said during a panel discussion earlier in the day that those who were challenging the government’s findings did not have access to all of the evidence the government is seeing. FBI Director James Comey made a similar point during an appearance January 7 at the same conference, where he revealed new details by saying that hackers mistakenly sent messages directly that could be traced to IP addresses used exclusively by North Korea. “If you’re going to be making statements about the activities of a nation-state having crossed a threshold into very destructive and coercive action, a.) you’d better be right, and b.) you want to be able to do so with … people having confidence in your judgment,” Monaco said, later adding that the decision to deliver a public announcement was not made lightly. Joseph Demarest, the head of the FBI’s cyber division, said it was hard to look through all the Sony evidence and reach a different conclusion. He said the FBI had studied North Korea for a long time. “Overwhelmingly, it came out as North Korea or a proxy put up by North Korea,” he said. (Eric Tucker, “U.S. officials: Decision to Name Sony Culprit Made Carefully,” Associated Press, January 8, 2015)

President Park convened a New Year’s meeting with nearly 200 top government officials this afternoon at the Blue House, where she said that her administration “will try its utmost on practical preparations needed for tangible and real [unification] to be realized.” The meeting included leaders of both the ruling and opposition parties, the prime minister, the National Assembly speaker, presidential secretaries, ministers and vice ministers, and judicial and economic leaders. Because the Blue House has indicated its intentions to improve North-South relations, questions arose a day after Kim’s proposal over how Park would respond. On December 29, the South’s Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation initially proposed to Pyongyang a minister-level meeting this month to discuss a range of issues, including reunions for aged families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. President Park said in her New Year’s address to the nation that the government “will work to put an end to the 70-year division that has caused severance and conflict, and would encourage North Korea toward a path of trust and change.” She added that her administration plans to “lay a substantive, concrete foundation on which to achieve unification.” “We are not concerned about the format,” said a high-level government official. “Rather, the act of holding talks is what’s important,” whether that be high-level talks or the minister-level talks as proposed by Seoul. He indicated that a leaders’ summit could be discussed in such platforms. If government talks with the North manifest, family reunions would be the top priority, he added. “If we do not resolve the issue, our people will have to hold this history in shame,” the government official said. “If things go well, confirming their identities and if they are alive will takes less than three years. … If this follows through, it will considerably alleviate the grievances of these separated families.” “In the New Year, the North-South relations have to be eased. The Unification Ministry’s task is to improve North-South relations, and to move toward a path of unification,” he added. “The 70th anniversary of liberation and separation is not just a number but is important in many other aspects. Depending on how we proceed, the next five, 10, 30 years are decided.” “The government position is that North Korea’s New Year address proposing talks, cooperation and contact shows a sincere posture toward dialogue and cooperation,” Ministry of Unification spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol said in a briefing today. He added that the government “adheres to the stance that we need to resolve issues with the North through dialogue, and North Korea’s New Year address once more provided an opportunity to reconfirm this. So if North Korea sincerely intends to improve inter-Korean relations, it will need to come to the talks without any preconditions.” President Park earlier in the day also held a phone conversation with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to “discuss cooperation with Korea and the United Nations and mutual concerns,” according to Blue House spokesman Min Kyung-wook. They were said to have discussed the situation on the Korean Peninsula as well as Kim’s proposal for a leaders’ summit. (Sarah Kim, “Government Weight N. Korea’s Remarks,” JoongAng Ilbo, January 3, 2015)


1/4/15:
DPRK FoMin spokesman: “The U.S. on Friday [December 6] issued the presidential executive order to impose “new sanctions” upon the DPRK under the pretext of the cyberattack on the Sony Pictures Entertainment. The Sony Pictures Entertainment produced a disgusting movie openly agitating terrorism against a sovereign state only to invite bitter censure and criticism of public at home and abroad. But the U.S. is kicking off a noisy anti-DPRK campaign, deliberately linking the “cyber terror” with the DPRK. Many countries formally clarified their negative stand on the U.S. absurd assertions and major media and prestigious experts of the U.S. and the West are becoming vocal claiming that the recent hacking attack was not made by north Korea. The U.S. anti-DPRK hostile act that kicked off from the outset of the year is aimed to save its face and tarnish the image of the DPRK in the international arena at any cost, upset by the increased international skepticism about its “results of the investigation” which termed the recent cyber attack the one made by the DPRK. The U.S. is persistently turning down the DPRK’s just proposal for joint investigation to probe the truth about the cyberattack on the Sony Pictures Entertainment. This behavior itself brings to light its ulterior motive prompted by its guilty conscience. The persistent and unilateral action taken by the White House to slap “sanctions” against the DPRK patently proves that it is still not away from inveterate repugnancy and hostility toward the DPRK. Now is the time for the U.S. to know that its sanctions did not weaken the DPRK but proved counter-productive as shown by the DPRK’s measures to further sharpen the treasured sword of Songun. The policy persistently pursued by the U.S. to stifle the DPRK, groundlessly stirring up bad blood towards it would only harden its will and resolution to defend the sovereignty of the country, the dignity of the nation and the sovereignty by dint of the Songun politics.” (KCNA, “DPRK FM Slams U.S. for ‘New Sanctions,’” January 4, 2015)


1/6/15:
KCNA: “Supreme leader Kim Jong-un in his New Year address urged the U.S. to desist from pursuing the anachronistic policy hostile towards the DPRK and make a policy switchover. Last year the U.S. more extremely schemed to isolate and stifle the DPRK, a fortress of socialism and bulwark of independence and justice. It persisted in military pressure and economic blockade against the DPRK, recklessly trying to provoke it by force. The U.S. introduced huge armed forces in south Korea and its vicinity and staged war maneuvers against the DPRK ceaselessly, claiming that its having access to nuclear deterrent for self-defence is “threat” and “provocation.” When the attempt to destroy nuclear deterrent of the DPRK and stifle it proved to be futile, the U.S. kicked off the base “human rights” racket, politicized and internationalized it and prodded its followers into cooking up even the “human rights resolution” against the DPRK. The evil cycle of tension persists and the danger of a nuclear war increases on the Korean peninsula day by day due to the U.S. hostile moves against the DPRK. In order to cope with the prevailing situation in which the U.S. high-handed practices are rampant and justice and truth are ruthlessly trampled down, the DPRK has further bolstered up its military capability for self-defense with nuclear deterrent as a pivot, holding higher the banner of Songun. This is a product of the U.S. policy error in its Korean issue. This is clearly evidenced by the history of confrontation between the DPRK and the U.S. The U.S. policy makers have long pursued anti-DPRK moves including military pressure, sanctions and economic blockade while sticking to its hostile policy toward the DPRK but this got the U.S. nowhere. The U.S. withdrawal of the hostile policy toward the DPRK is a very urgent issue in view of the requirement of the prevailing situation and the trend of the times. In case the U.S. does not take a correct choice in the Korean issue, the DPRK’s possession of war deterrent will be prolonged and bolstered and the U.S. will face ever more fatal consequences. If the U.S. respects the sovereignty of the DPRK and does not interfere in its internal affairs and approaches it with good faith, though belatedly, the latter will act in line with it. This is the fixed stand of the DPRK. The U.S. had better face up to the changed situation and the trend of the historic development and make a political decision to boldly roll back its policy hostile towards the DPRK in keeping with the interests of the U.S. and the aspiration of the world peace-loving people.” (KCNA, “U.S. Should Roll Back Hostile Policy toward DPRK and Make Policy Switchover,” January 6, 2015)

How advanced is North Korea’s nuclear weapons program? Seoul appears less sure about its progress than the head of the U.S. military in Korea. South Korea’s defense ministry said Tuesday that Pyongyang’s ability to produce a nuclear warhead was “at a significant level” and that North Korea had “the capability to threaten the contiguous U.S. with a long-range ballistic missile.” But a ministry spokesman later said the technology for miniaturizing a nuclear warhead to put on such a missile was assessed to be “incomplete,” a slightly cagier characterization than one U.S. assessment last year. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. forces on the Korean peninsula, told reporters in October that he believed North Korea was capable of building a miniaturized nuclear warhead. He said Pyongyang had “the technology to potentially actually deliver what they say they have,” referring to the technologies needed to launch a nuclear-tipped missile towards the U.S. Those comments suggest a difference in the assessments of the North’s progress in developing nuclear arms technology, though Gen. Scaparrotti qualified his remarks, saying it was unlikely Pyongyang could stage an attack with such weapons without exhaustive testing, a process that had yet to take place. (Jeyup S. Kwaak, “Seoul Less Sure Than U.S. General of Pyongyang’s Nuclear Weapons Progress,” Wall Street Journal Korea Real Time, January 6, 2015) “North Korea’s capabilities of miniaturizing nuclear weapons appear to have reached a significant level,” the paper said. “North Korea is presumed to have secured some 40 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium by reprocessing spent nuclear fuel roads multiple times, and it is evaluated to have been working on the highly enriched uranium program.” Pyongyang has yet to demonstrate the miniaturization capability, though officials and experts from South Korea and the U.S. have said the communist country is believed to have the technology to build nuclear-tipped missiles. “We don’t have any intelligence that North Korea completed the miniaturization. In consideration of the fact that acquiring such technology takes around two to seven years in general and eight years have passed since the North conducted its first nuclear test, however, its capability for small nuclear warheads would have reached a significant level,” a ministry official said. In the paper, South Korea also assessed that North Korea is “presumed to have (missiles) capabilities that could threaten the U.S. mainland, having fired off long-range missiles five times.” The evaluation was based upon the North’s successful sending of a satellite into orbit on an Unha-3 long-range rocket in December 2012, according to the official, noting that its Taepodong-2 long-range rocket is believed to have a range of 10,000 kilometers. Despite Pyongyang’s push to develop long-range missiles, no signs have been detected that Pyongyang has put them into service, he added. In the face of such growing threats from the bellicose regime, South Korea defined the North Korean regime and its military as South Korea’s “enemy” in the paper as the communist country has posed “serious threats to our national security.” South Korea had dropped the definition in 2004 after 10 years of use, but revived the expression in its 2012 white paper after the North carried out a series of military provocations in 2010 including torpedoing the South Korean naval corvette Cheonan, killing 46 sailors, and shelling the western sea border island of Yeonpyeong, killing four. (Oh Seok-min, “N. Korea Has ‘Significant’ Technology for Miniaturized Nukes: Seoul, Yonhap, January 6, 2015) North Korea has set up posts along its border with South Korea to be able to more quickly invade its neighbor, while also expanding its artillery and mechanized forces, according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry. Kim Jong-un’s regime is setting up “infiltration facilities” along the demilitarized zone to be able to both accommodate and rapidly deploy special forces into South Korea if war breaks out, the ministry said in its latest white paper released today. It didn’t say how many posts there are or whether they included tunnels and housed weapons. North Korea has also probably developed ballistic missiles capable of threatening the continental U.S., according to the report, the first time South Korea has made the assertion in its white paper. “These are newly spotted structures and could be part of a wider network of military bases and tunnels,” Park Chang Kwon, a senior research fellow at the state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul, said by phone. South Korea is also “formally saying that North Korea has very much addressed the issues of accuracy and reliability for its intercontinental ballistic missile.” North Korea’s capacity to miniaturize nuclear warheads is also believed to have reached a “considerable” level, according to the paper. No South Korean or U.S. officials have said the North has yet obtained the ability to tip a long-range missile with a nuclear warhead. North Korea is also building a fleet of high-speed boats while developing submarines capable of carrying ballistic missiles, according to the white paper. In his New Year address broadcast Jan. 1, Kim Jong-un said he would beef up his country’s war-fighting forces, which includes the development of nuclear weapons. At the same time, he raised the possibility of a summit with South Korean President Park Geun Hye to ease tensions between the two countries more than 60 years after the end of their civil war. (Sam Kim, “North Korea Boosting Ability to Attack South, U.S.,” Bloomberg News, January 6, 2015)


1/7/15:
DPRK National Defense Commission spokesman’s statement “urging the south Korean authorities to clarify their stand on some problems: Talking about “sincerity of the New Year address of the north”, politicians of south Korea have described the DPRK’s historic appeal as an “attempt to embrace the south aimed at breaking down south Korea-U.S. cooperation” and a “dialogue offensive to get rid of the international pressure.” Worse still, they estimated the U.S. “high-profile additional sanctions” against the DPRK as “proper counteraction” and again prodded the human scum into scattering anti-DPRK leaflets in frontline area for confrontation. … Firstly, do the south Korean authorities have an idea to bring about a great change in the north-south relations through dialogue, negotiation, exchange and contact or to persist in the confrontational racket such as leaflet scattering? What matters is the fact that they still claim they can hardly stop such confrontational racket conducted under their jurisdiction on the pretexts of “freedom of expression, characteristics of social system and absence of legal grounds.” The south Korean authorities should make clear their stand on whether they will choose dialogue or confrontation. Secondly, do they intend to create a peaceful environment on the Korean Peninsula or to go on escalating the tension? Instead of responding to the DPRK’s peaceful call for a halt to the joint military rehearsals staged in league with outside forces, the south Korean military has declared from the outset of the new year the continuation of nuclear war exercises against the DPRK, asserting that the rehearsals would go on to keep their combat capabilities as long as “south Korea-U.S. alliance” exists. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the south Korean army flew into the sky over the southwestern territorial waters, sensitive hotspot, by a fighter, blustering that “if the north provokes, the south will not hesitate to punish it mercilessly.” The south Korean authorities should clarify their stand on whether they intend to create a peaceful environment or go on escalating the tension. Thirdly, do they have a will to achieve the great unity and cohesion in the spirit of By Our Nation Itself or to resort to the moves for “unification of social systems” and “confrontation of social systems”? In south Korea, politicians and even the authorities are scheming to subordinate the dialogue and contacts for national reunification to the materialization of the present chief executive’s “doctrine of gaining a great opportunity of unification.” Such nonsense as “Let us achieve unification under the system of liberal democracy at the risk of our lives in 2015” is heard from them, and the minister of Unification went the lengths of calling in a public appearance for the “south-led unification.” The present chief executive of south Korea did not hesitate to contend that the north should be led to make a “meaningful change” in 2015 without fail. The south Korean authorities should have a clear understanding of the DPRK’s resolution and will reflected in the positive call for writing a new history of the north-south relations. The DPRK will watch the future movement of the south Korean authorities with vigilance.” (KCNA, “NDC Spokesman Urges S. Korean Authorities to Clarify Stand on Improving North-South Relations,” January 7, 2015)

DPRK National Defense Commission Policy Department statement “The U.S. ruling forces are more persistently resorting to their harsh policy hostile to the DPRK. Typical of its hostile policy is that U.S. President Obama slapped “high-profile additional sanctions” against major institutions and bodies and individuals of the DPRK from the outset of the new year and issued a “presidential administrative order” for enforcing them. As regards the historic measures declared by the DPRK for improving the inter-Korean ties and creating a peaceful environment on the Korean Peninsula, the U.S. authorities have already begun talking rubbish, blustering that the U.S. should not react to them with payment of excessive expenses. They are openly revealing their ulterior intention, asserting that the relations should be improved on the premise that the north shall make a sincere change in its attitude towards the denuclearization. The Policy Department of the NDC of the DPRK in its statement on Jan. 7 notifies the Obama Administration of its following principled stand as it is pushing the DPRK-U.S. relations to the worst phase of confrontation from the outset of the year: Firstly, the U.S. should lift all unreasonable “sanctions” against the DPRK in all fields. We have taken this stand because all “sanctions” the U.S. has imposed against the DPRK so far are based on the inveterate hostility and repugnancy towards it and Washington’s hostile policy towards it. This is also because “sanctions” were invented under absurd pretexts and conditions. The U.S. should know that such tragicomedy as issuing the above-said order over the case without any sure ground would only bring bitterer disgrace and shame to it. Secondly, the U.S., availing itself of this opportunity, should make a bold decision to unconditionally stop all reckless hostile acts of creating the danger of war on the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. should properly know that its attempt to infringe upon the sovereignty of the DPRK and bring down its dignified social system by force of arms will never come true. The U.S. should make a bold decision to stop all hostile actions, if it does not want to follow in the footsteps of preceding U.S. warmongers who confessed after drinking a bitter cup of defeat that they fought a wrong war against a wrong rival at a wrong time and in a wrong place. Thirdly, the U.S. should not forget even a moment that the army and people of the DPRK have already launched the toughest counteraction. We have already declared the toughest counteraction against the outrageous hostile acts the U.S. has perpetrated against the DPRK. The U.S. took part in wars of aggression, big and small, including two world wars. But it has never experienced a hail of bullets and shells on its own territory. The U.S. should roll back its hostile policy towards the DPRK of its own accord if it does not want to suffer a war disaster. One is bound to go to ruin if one fails to understand one’s rival and one’s own position. We will closely follow the U.S. policy switchover.” (KCNA, “NDC of DPRK Notifies U.S. Administration of Its Principled Stand,” January 7, 2015)

The government should not hurry to host an inter-Korean summit in spite of signs of a thaw in Seoul-Pyongyang relations, according to Chung Chong-wook, one of the two vice chairmen of the Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation. He also said the government should intervene to stop activist groups to refrain from carrying out disputed airborne propaganda campaign against the North. “It would be risky to think that an inter-Korean summit would settle all inter-Korean issues,” he said during a luncheon with the reporters in Seoul. “I don’t mean I’m opposed to the summit. However, I want to stress having too much expectation would not to lead to progress on inter-Korean dialogues,” Chung said. Chung welcomed Kim’s speech on January 1. But he added the summit would require other steps in advance. “I highly value Kim’s address. However, it requires tremendous effort to hold the summit. And such meetings will be made possible only when the minister-level officials lay groundwork.” Chung urged the government to intervene in stopping activist groups from floating balloons containing anti-Pyongyang leaflet across the demilitarized zone. The Stalinist State has been furious about the campaigns and demanded that Seoul ban such anti-Pyongyang activities. “I hope the government plays a role in making activists to refrain from such activities because we need to restore inter-Korean dialogues,” he said. (Yi Whan-woo, “Govt. Should Be in Hurry to Hold S-N Summit,” Korea Times, January 7, 2015)

The Ministry of Unification is under mounting pressure to prevent civic activists from launching balloons containing anti-North Korean leaflets amid optimism for thawing Seoul-Pyongyang relations. KNCA demanded Seoul take measures on disputed campaigns, saying, “it has been acquiescing anti-North Korean activities.” Yesterday, Uijeongbu District Court ruled such campaigns should be banned if they threaten people’s lives. It cited that North Korean soldiers opened fire from their side of the demilitarized zone in October 2014 in an attempt to shoot down the balloons. Also yesterday, the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Inter-Korean Policies Commitee passed a resolution that calls for a ban on the leaflet propaganda campaigns. However, the unification ministry, which deals with inter-Korean affairs, said today it will not ban the campaigns although it respects the Uijeongbu ruling. Ministry’s spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol said it will do so to ensure freedom of expression guaranteed under the Constitution. According to experts, the government’s effort to restore high-level inter-Korean talks would be disrupted unless it takes measures against the anti-Pyongyang activist groups. “North Korea has not tolerated any slanderous acts against its supreme leader and it will not in this case either,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute. “It would not be possible for Pyongyang to ignore this as if nothing happened and resume inter-Korean dialogue as long as activist groups send balloons containing leaflets that denounce Kim.” Cheong said. Paik Hak-soon, also a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, voiced a similar view. “The unification ministry showed that the government is not willing to change its inter-Korean policy regardless of a change in situation,” he said. “It’s unlikely that the talks between deputy-ministers or those at higher levels would take place if the ministry goes on likes this.” The Campaign for Helping North Korean in Direct Way, an activist group, triggered the dispute over airborne leaflet propaganda campaign yesterday. Led by a former North Korean defector, Lee Min-bok, it floated two balloons containing some 600,000 leaflets at around 7:30 a.m. The leaflets criticized the Kim regime for causing extreme poverty. The campaign came after Seoul’s Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation suggested holding the talks this month. . (Yi Whan-woo, “Govt. Urged to Block Balloon Campaign,” Korea Times, January 7, 2015)


1/8/15:
The United States has no evidence yet that North Korea has mastered the technology to make nuclear warheads small enough to fit atop ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S., a Defense Department official said. South Korea’s Defense Ministry said in its defense “white paper” report published earlier this week that it believes the communist nation has reached a “significant” point in efforts to mastering the warhead miniaturization technology. “Gen. Scaparrotti stood in our briefing room several months ago and spoke, I think, very eloquently about this,” Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said, referring to the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti. “He said that it is prudent for him as a commander to prepare for such a contingency, but that we have no evidence yet that they have achieve that level of technology,” Warren said in response to a Yonhap question about the U.S. assessment of the North’s nuclear capabilities. (Chang Jae-soon, “U.S. Has No Evidence Yet That North Has Mastered Miniaturization Technology,” Yonhap, January 9, 2015)

South Korea again signaled that it may block a local activist group from sending DVDs of a controversial U.S. film about the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un across the border. The Fighters for a Free North Korea is planning to launch balloons containing the DVDs of “The Interview” later this month as part of their activities of spreading dissenting political messages in the communist country. “The government plans to request (that the group) make a wise decision in order to prevent physical or property risks among local residents at the border area,” unification ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-chul said in a regular briefing. (Yonhap, “Seoul Hints at Stopping DVD Launch across Border,” Korea Herald, January 9, 2015)

China offered its clearest signal yet it was ready to work with North Korea toward warmer ties this year, vowing efforts to boost friendship and cooperation with Pyongyang. China’s foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei made the comments in a statement, which also reconfirmed that Beijing sent a message of congratulations to North Korea on the birthday of its young leader Kim Jong-un. “In the new year, the Chinese side will push forward its traditional friendship and cooperation with the DPRK (North Korea) in keeping with the principles of carrying on the tradition, looking to the future, developing good-neighborly and friendly relations, and enhancing cooperation,” Hong said in the statement. During a regular press briefing yesterday, Hong told reporters that China had sent the congratulatory message to North Korea but failed to comment on bilateral relations. (Yonhap, “China Signals Warmer Relations with N. Korea,” January 9, 2015)

More and more South Koreans have become interested in reunification over the last five years, a poll suggests, partly as a result of government and press campaigns. In the survey by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies of 1,500 adults released on Tuesday, 82.6 percent said they are interested in reunification, compared to just 52.6 percent in 2010. Although there are clear differences according to age group, interest in reunification increased across all the spectrum. Among people in their 20s, a whopping 71.8 percent expressed an interest, up from just 39.2 percent five years ago, and among 40-somethings the figure rose from 57 percent to 81.8 percent over the same period. Among people over 60 it reached almost complete support, growing from 58.3 percent to 91.9 percent. But the reasons why people favor reunification have changed. The largest group or 40.8 percent cited ethnic or national reasons — 33.2 percent want to restore ethnic unity and 7.6 percent call for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War to be reunited. But almost the same proportion cited pragmatic reasons with 37.7 percent. Some 23 percent said reunification would stimulate economic growth and 14.7 percent said it would substantially reduce defense spending. Among people in their 40s, 47.8 percent feel economic factors are the most important reason for reunification, compared to only 34.2 percent who thought ethnic or national unity is the chief driver. “People in their 40s, who play central roles in the economy, approach reunification from an economic standpoint,” the institute said. “In contrast, among people in their 60s or above, who experienced the pain of war and separation, 20 percent more cited ethnic unity as the main reason.” (Chosun Ilbo, “Interest in Reunification Rises Again,” January9, 2015)

Bermudez: “Recent commercial satellite imagery indicates that the conning tower of a new North Korean submarine first seen in July 2014 houses 1-2 possible vertical launch tubes for either ballistic or cruise missiles. The boat could serve as an experimental test bed for land-attack missile technology, which if successful, may be integrated into a new class of submarines. In addition, imagery over the past six months indicates that North Korea has been upgrading facilities at the Sinpo South Shipyard in preparation for a significant naval construction program, possibly related to submarine development. …Exactly what missile system would be used in a ballistic missile submarine (SSB) is purely speculative at this point. Several possibilities are a shorter naval version of the Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile, a Nodong medium-range ballistic missile, naval versions of the solid-fuelled KN-02 short-range ballistic missile or an entirely new system. While it appears that North Korea’s current efforts are focused on developing a ballistic missile submarine, a less likely alternative would be a guided cruise missile submarine (SSG). This, however, would only be possible if North Korea could access foreign vertical-launched cruise missile technology. Such a route might present an easier, faster route to a submarine-launched missile system. The presence of vertical launch tubes, if confirmed by additional evidence, would signal a significant advance in North Korean naval construction capabilities and could represent an embryotic step towards expanding Pyongyang’s missile threat to South Korea, Japan and US bases in East Asia. It would also complicate regional missile defense planning, deployment and operations. North Korean missile-carrying submarines could be challenging to locate and track, would be mobile assets with the capability to attack from any direction, and would be able to operate at significant distances from the Korean peninsula. Such a threat, however, is not present today. Moreover, North Korea’s development of an operational missile-carrying submarine would be an expensive and time-consuming endeavor with no guarantee of success.” (Joseph Bermudez, Jr., “North Korea’s SINPO-Class Sub: New Evidence of Possible Vertical missile Launch Tubes; Sinpo Shipyard Prepares for Significant Naval Construction Program,” 38North, January 8, 2015)


1/9/15:
KCNA report: “Recently the DPRK government proposed a crucial step to the U.S. government to remove the danger of war, ease tension and create a peaceful climate on the Korean peninsula, prompted by the desire to join efforts of all Koreans to open up a broad avenue to independent reunification in 2015 marking the 70th anniversary of the division of the Korean nation. The large-scale war games ceaselessly held every year in south Korea are the root cause of the escalating tension on the peninsula and the danger of nuclear war facing our nation. It is needless to say that there can be neither trust-based dialogue nor detente and stability on the peninsula in such a gruesome atmosphere in which war drills are staged against the dialogue partner. The United States should desist from pursuing the anachronistic policy hostile towards the DPRK and reckless acts of aggression and boldly make a policy switch. If this significant year can be made a year free from joint military exercises on the peninsula, it will greatly contribute to providing reconciliation and trust for Korea’s reunification and, furthermore, for peace and security in Northeast Asia. The message containing the proposal of the DPRK government was handed to the U.S. side through a relevant channel on January 9. The message proposed the U.S. to contribute to easing tension on the Korean peninsula by temporarily suspending joint military exercises in south Korea and its vicinity this year, and said that in this case the DPRK is ready to take such responsive step as temporarily suspending the nuclear test over which the U.S. is concerned. And it expressed the DPRK’s stand that if the U.S. needs dialogue as regards this issue, the former is ready to sit with the U.S. anytime. If the joint military exercises staged by the U.S. in south Korea and its vicinity every year are targeted on the DPRK only, there will be no reason why the former cannot accept the DPRK’s proposal. Now is the time for the U.S. to make a bold decision for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia.” (KCNA, “KCNA Report,” January 10, 2015)


1/10/15:
A South Korean-born American citizen who has spoken warmly about her trips to North Korea in public appearances and articles was deported from South Korea after an outcry from conservatives who accused her of sympathizing with the North Korean government. Shin Eun-mi, 54, said she would not challenge the immigration authorities’ decision to deport her, and she boarded a plane to Los Angeles. But she said she was deeply disappointed with the South Korean government. “I feel as if I am betrayed by someone I have loved,” she said before Justice Ministry officials escorted her from the immigration office in Seoul to Incheon International Airport. “My body is leaving my home country, South Korea, today, but they can never deport my soul, too, from the mother country that I love.” By law, she cannot return to South Korea for five years. The move to deport Shin has drawn criticism from Washington, where the State Department yesterday reiterated long-held misgivings about South Korea’s National Security Law, which bans praise or support for the North and which officials here invoked to expel Shin. “We’re concerned that the National Security Law, as interpreted and implied in some cases, limits freedom of expression and restricts access to the Internet,” a State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said when asked about Shin’s case. Prosecutors here said last week that Shin had made supportive comments about North Korea during a series of talks in South Korea late last year, describing three trips she made to the country between 2011 and 2013. They accused her of violating the National Security Law but apparently did not consider her offense serious enough for a formal indictment, instead asking the Justice Ministry to deport her. Shin denied violating the security law, saying that her lectures were not aimed at praising the North Korean government but at promoting reconciliation between the Koreas. She said she was a victim of a witch hunt by conservative South Korean news media outlets, bloggers and activists campaigning against what they call jongbuk, or followers of North Korea. Under the National Security Law, South Korea blocks access to North Korean websites and jails people for circulating pro-North propaganda on the Internet. For years, international human rights groups have recommended that South Korea repeal or amend the law, saying that it hinders freedom of expression and political association. But mainstream conservative parties have blocked any attempt to change it, saying that it protects the South against real threats from the North. Critics said the law’s loosely worded definition of illegal “activities benefiting the enemy” leaves it open to abuse. Such fears increased after President Park Geun-hye — daughter of the former military dictator Park Chung-hee, who used the law to arrest many political dissidents — took office two years ago. Last month, her government won a Constitutional Court ruling that disbanded a small leftist party accused of following North Korean ideology. Shin, whose American passport gives her name as Amy Chung but who has used her Korean name here, emigrated to the United States after graduating from college in Seoul. In a series of articles online about her North Korea trips, she described the people there as warmhearted and called for Korean reunification. She has appeared in a documentary on the North that was sponsored by the South Korean government, and in 2013, a book she wrote on her North Korea trips was included on a Culture Ministry recommended-reading list. But the ministry withdrew its recommendation after the current controversy erupted. The denunciations of Shin began after she gave a series of joint lectures with a leftist activist, Hwang Sun, last year. Hwang, notorious among conservatives for having given birth to her daughter in Pyongyang while on a visit in 2005, was once convicted and imprisoned on charges of aiding the North. Prosecutors recently accused her of violating the National Security Law and asked a court to issue a warrant for her arrest. During the joint lectures, Shin, a trained singer, sang a North Korean song that officials here said praised the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, who died in 2011. She was also quoted by the South Korean news media as saying that North Koreans appeared to be happy under the rule of the current leader, Kim Jong-un, one of Kim Jong-il’s sons. Shin also said that she liked North Korean beer, and that North Korean defectors living in the South had told her that they wanted to go home. Such comments infuriated conservative critics, including defectors from the North, who accused her of creating a distorted and naïve picture of the country and ignoring its dire human rights conditions. Last month, a high school student threw a homemade explosive device toward a podium where Shin was speaking. She was unhurt, and the student was arrested. Shin has accused her conservative critics of taking her remarks out of context. In her online articles and talks, she has often quoted her husband, who traveled to North Korea with her, as asking pointed questions of North Korean officials that indirectly pointed out some of the absurdities of the totalitarian government. (Choe Sang-hun, “South Korea Deports American over Warm Words for Trips to North,” New York Times, January 11, 2015, p. A-6)

A senior North Korean official is expected to meet with former U.S. diplomats in mid-January in Singapore to discuss bilateral and nuclear issues, diplomatic sources said. The planned trip by Ri Yong Ho, North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator, comes as Pyongyang is seeking to engage more actively in diplomacy with some other countries despite a standoff with the United States over a cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. Ri is expected to meet with former U.S. envoys for North Korean negotiations Stephen Bosworth and Joseph DeTrani on January 18-19, according to the sources. (Kyodo, “N. Korea’s Nuclear Envoy to Meet Former U.S. Diplomats in January,” January 10, 2015)


1/12/15:
DoS: “Q: A few days ago, we know North Korea said if Washington canceled a joint annual military exercise with South Korea, it would halt nuclear tests. Any comments on that? HARF: Yes. The DPRK statement that inappropriately links routine U.S.-ROK exercises to the possibility of a nuclear test by North Korea is an implicit threat. A new nuclear test would be a clear violation of North Korea’s obligations under multiple UN Security Council resolutions, would also contravene North Korea’s commitments under the 2005 Six-Party joint statement. Our annual joint military exercises with the Republic of Korea are transparent, defense-oriented, and have been carried out regularly and openly for roughly 40 years. We call on the DPRK to immediately cease all threats, reduce tensions, and take the steps toward denuclearization needed to resume credible negotiations. And we do remain open to dialogue with the DPRK, as we’ve said, with the aim of returning to these credible and authentic negotiations. Q: But it seems every time when the joint military exercise starts, it creates some tensions in Korean Peninsula. HARF: Well, it shouldn’t, given that it’s defense-focused, defense-oriented, transparent, and regularly every 40 years. I’m not sure what is a surprise about it. ….Q: Do you interpret the North Korea statement as an implicit threat? Are there any plans for the U.S. to respond to that? HARF: I think I just did. Q: I mean with more than words. MS. HARF: Well, we’re going forward with the planned exercises, so I’m not sure — which usually take place in late February or early March. No specific date yet. But nothing else that I know of. Q: So which means the joint military exercise will continue? HARF: Yes. Q: So you don’t think it will — because the United States won’t like to talk to North Korea. I mean — HARF: I just said we remain open to dialogue with the DPRK. Q: Okay, but it seems that although you open dialogue, but you don’t think this military exercise creates some tensions in this — HARF: No. A military exercise that is transparent and defense-oriented has no reason to. …Q: Are you aware of the report that former Special Representative for North Korea Policy Steven Bosworth, he and other — some other American security experts have all been meeting with North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator and some other senior diplomats in Singapore? HARF: I wasn’t aware of that. I wasn’t. Let me check. Obviously, they’re not current U.S. officials, but I’m happy to check. Q: South Korean President Park Geun-hye, she has said she’s open to a summit with North Korea and she has no preconditions for holding such a meeting. Any comment? HARF: Well, we welcome ROK efforts to improve inter-Korean relations and urge the DPRK to reciprocate in kind.” (Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf, DoS Daily Briefing, January 12, 2015)

It is never easy to know what people in North Korea are thinking, given the police state’s tight restrictions on access. But defectors have been able to crack the information barrier just a little, and if what they are hearing is any guide, it appears that “The Interview,” the Sony Pictures comedy about a fictional C.I.A. plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un, is not going over well with North Korean viewers, even among people who oppose the country’s dictatorship. Several democracy activists with contacts in the North said the North Koreans they spoke with reacted to the film first with fear of punishment for watching it but also with derision and wounded feelings over the depiction of their country. To put it simply, national pride trumped their dislike for Kim Jong-un, their country’s young and often ruthless leader. “They cursed at the movie,” said Chung Kwang-il, a North Korean defector and democracy activist in South Korea who said that his associates in China had smuggled digital copies of the movie into the North and that he had since spoken by cellphone with eight people who surreptitiously watched it. “They were angry it depicted North Koreans as a bunch of idiots,” he said. “Now, these are not people worshiping Kim Jong-un; they are ones who wish he were gone.” Pirated copies of “The Interview,” with Korean subtitles, are easily accessible online for smugglers who are trying to cash in on a growing black market for outside entertainment inside North Korea. But even some of the activists sending the film in said it was unlikely that many people would risk watching it. The United States-funded Radio Free Asia as well as Daily NK, a Seoul-based website that says it has informants inside North Korea, reported that the North’s State Security Department recently tightened surveillance along its border with China, warning of severe punishment for anyone smuggling or watching the “reactionary movie the external hostile forces are spreading to insult the country’s supreme dignity,” a common reference to Kim. “It’s certain death if they were caught with this film,” said Kim Heung-kwang, another North Korean defector living in the South. Still, he said, a small number of his contacts did watch the comedy. Based on feedback from three of them, he said that most of the jokes appeared to be lost in translation, like a scene in which fruit in a supermarket in Pyongyang, the capital, were fakes made of plaster that were put on display to fool visitors. “That doesn’t happen in Pyongyang, and people who were not used to American-style comedy would find it insulting,” he said. “But it’s largely fear of punishment, rather than such faults, that keeps people from watching the movie. So I think it may spread once the crackdown subsides in a month or two.” Chung said the North Koreans also heaped criticism on the film for the actors’ bad North Korean accents and for using clunky imitations of Workers’ Party slogans ubiquitous in the totalitarian state. Kim Sung-min, a North Korean defector who runs Free North Korea Radio, a Seoul-based website, wrote there that he spoke to two North Korean viewers and one of them said that he was thrilled by the scene in which an American talk-show host visiting Pyongyang asked the Kim Jong-un character why he was starving his people. (Hunger attributed to failed economic policies is widespread in North Korea.) Nonetheless, Kim quoted the viewer as saying that “the movie will only increase animosity among us because it not only failed to understand our feelings, but didn’t even try to.” He said the North Korean added: “It humiliates Kim Jong-un, treating him like a child. To us, who have been educated on his greatness, this is a public insult.” In South Korea, where the movie was not expected to have wide viewership, opinions of those who have seen it so far were mixed. Although some conservative bloggers and activists supported the film, others were offended. “Even if the movie is somehow smuggled into North Korea and North Koreans see it, there’s nothing for North Korean authorities to worry about,” Bae Myung-bok, a well-known editorial writer for JoongAng Ilbo, wrote in a column about the movie, which he called “Hollywood trash.” “Instead, some may be disappointed by the low quality of the Hollywood movie and feel offended that the United States derided North Korea.” Some analysts in South Korea feared that the worsening relations between the United States and North Korea over “The Interview” might derail cautious attempts for a warming of ties on the divided Korean Peninsula. Amid the hubbub, Park Sang-hak, a Seoul-based North Korean defector and activist opposed to the North’s government, said he still planned — with the help of donations from the Human Rights Foundation in New York — to launch balloons carrying DVDs and USB memory sticks containing the film into North Korea later this month. “North Korea will collapse if we send in one million copies,” he said. On January 7, North Korea threatened to kill Park. (Choe Sang-hun, “Disliking Kim Jong-un, and Film Even More,” New York Times, January 12, 2015, p. A-4)

North Korea has drastically shortened the time it takes to prepare for missile launches by improving liquid fuel quality for ballistic missiles, a government source here claimed. This could virtually incapacitate South Korea’s current missile defense system. “It used to be thought possible to detect a North Korean launch of ballistic missiles in advance because the liquid fuel had to be pumped into the missiles right before the launch,” the source said. “But analysis of various intelligence reports last year shows that the North’s ballistic missiles can now stay in standby mode for a long time even after they are injected with liquid fuel because its quality has improved.” That would give the renegade country more flexibility in deciding when to launch a missile. (Chosun Ilbo, “N. Korean Missile Launches ‘Harder to Predict,’” January 13, 2015)


1/13/15:
The United States aims to use new sanctions imposed on North Korea over the cyber attack on Sony Pictures to cut off the country’s remaining links to the international financial system, Daniel Glaser, assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the U.S. Treasury Department, told a House of Representatives briefing. Glaser said past sanctions had already discouraged “hundreds” of overseas banks, including China’s major commercial banks, from doing business with North Korea. New sanctions announced by President Barack Obama on January 2 provided “a tremendous amount of flexibility” and the goal was to identify remaining financial institutions that allowed North Korea access to the global system, which could face sanction themselves. “We could target any North Korean government agency; we could target any North Korean government official … we could apply sanctions with respect to any individual or entity who is providing them, in turn, material support,” he said. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called for use of the full scope of the new sanctions announced after U.S. authorities said North Korea was behind the Sony attack. “The significance of this new Executive Order may come from the broad power it gives the president to target anyone who is a part of the North Korean government, or is assisting them in any way … that is if the administration chooses to use it to its full advantage,” he told the briefing. “We need to step up and target those financial institutions in Asia and beyond that are supporting the brutal and dangerous North Korean regime.” When challenged by Royce about “a number of small banks” still doing business with North Korea and the need to choke off the country’s access to hard currency, Glaser replied: “That’s exactly what we are trying to do.” Royce said he hoped a bipartisan bill he sponsored that would label North Korea “a primary money laundering concern” would be passed by the Senate this year. At a news conference at the United Nations in New York, North Korea’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador An Myong Hun reiterated his country’s position that it had nothing to do with the Sony hacking and said the United States should provide evidence. (David Brunnstrom, “U.S. Takes Aim at North Korea’s Remaining Financial Links,” Reuters, January 13, 2015)

South Korea has no intention of absorbing North Korea as a way to unify the two Koreas, but it will seek to achieve unification peacefully and in a step-by-step manner, a official of the Ministry of Unification. On January 8, the North’s National Defense Commission demanded the South come up with a clear stance on unification, asking whether Seoul is willing to have a peaceful unification or stick to ideological confrontations. “Our government is not seeking unification by abortion as the North claims,” the ministry official said. “The incumbent government is on the same line of previous governments’ unification policy, which seeks unification (of the Koreas) in a gradual and step-by-step manner, based on autonomy, peace and democracy,” the official noted. The government’s stance is that the two Koreas should first built trust through dialogue and cooperation for the phase-in of unification because the South and the North currently suffer a lack of trust and dialogue, the official added. The official also repeated the ministry’s intention to intervene in a local activist group’s provocative campaign to send DVDs of an anti-Pyongyang film in balloons across the border. The U.S. comedy “The Interview” revolves around a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. “We plan to ask them to make a wise choice (to stop) to prevent any risks that can be posed on the life and property of citizens at the border area,” the official said. (Yonhap, “S. Korea Does Not Seek Unification by Absorption: Official,” January 13, 2015)

South Korea and the United States plan to carry out a large-scale joint military exercise in early March, a source here said, despite North Korea’s recent calls for halting joint drills this year. The military source said Key Resolve, one of the two major annual combined exercises on the Korean Peninsula between the allies, “is scheduled to take place in early March to check and boost their joint readiness posture.” The war game used to take place in late February. The remark came after Hankook Ilbo reported today, citing a government official, that Seoul and Washington have agreed to delay the Key Resolve exercise by about a week, a move believed to factor in recent developments in inter-Korean ties. (Yonhap, “Korea, U.S. to Conduct Military Drills in March,” Korea Herald, January 13, 2015)

North Korea is seeking to revive a moribund project to develop the border areas along the Tumen River and a pipeline to transport Russian gas as part of efforts to build trust and expand economic cooperation with South Korea and other neighbors, according to a report. The Tumen River Area Development Project, which was later renamed the Greater Tumen Initiative, was launched in 1992 as a joint initiative among China, Russia and Japan and the two Koreas following a proposal a year earlier by the U.N. Development Program. But it had made little progress in the face of military tension, lukewarm participation and sluggish investment by private businesses. The paper, published in November in the journal by the country’s Academy of Social Science, also indicated the communist country’s resolve to kick-start an ambitious yet dormant project to lay a natural gas pipeline and railway through North Korea to the South. “The development of the Tumen River and surrounding regions has emerged as a key item for economic cooperation among the countries in Northeast Asia over the some 20 years since the 1990s,” the report reads. “The establishment of an oil and natural gas pipeline and the Trans-Siberian Railroad and the Trans-Korea Railway is another cooperative project that is gaining attention.” (Shin Hyon-hee, “North Korea Seeks to Revive Tumen River Development,” Korea Herald, January 13, 2015)

Within the next two years North Korea could have enough fissile material to build a nuclear arsenal of about 20 weapons, according to Siegfried S. Hecker, a senior fellow an affiliated member at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation. Hecker notes that “Pyongyang likely has roughly 12 nuclear weapons with an annual manufacturing capacity of possibly four to six bombs.” He believes the arsenal is primed for even greater growth in the next couple of years: “By the time the president leaves office, North Korea may conduct another nuclear test and have an arsenal of 20.” He is unsparing in his assessment of the past three decades’ of presidential administrations and their failure to restrain North Korea’s program: “Five US administrations determined to prevent North Korea from becoming a nuclear weapon state through various combinations of diplomacy, threats, ultimatums, and sanctions all failed. The George W. Bush administration failed miserably and, to date, the Obama administration has done as badly.” (Jeremy Bender, “Top Expert: North Korea Could 20 Nuclear Weapons by the Time Obama Leaves Office,” Business Insider, January 13, 2015)

North Korea said that “many things will be possible this year on the Korean Peninsula” if the United States agrees to suspend its annual military exercises with South Korea in exchange for Pyongyang’s suspension of nuclear tests. North Korea’s new deputy U.N. ambassador, An Myong Hun, refused to give details during a news conference but said the suspensions would open “genuine dialogue” between the two Koreas and remove the risk of war. He urged the Obama administration to reverse its rejection of the proposal and said his government “is ready to explain its intentions behind its proposal directly to the United States.” An said North Korea sent the proposal to the U.S. on December 9 through the “appropriate channel” used for communications between the two countries “in order to remove the danger of war and ease the tension and create (a) peaceful atmosphere on the Korean peninsula.” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki objected January 10 to linking a possible North Korean nuclear test — which is banned by the U.N. Security Council — to military exercises. She said this constituted “an implicit threat” and called on the North to immediately cease all threats and reduce tensions. Psaki said the U.S. remains open to dialogue with North Korea, but only “with the aim of returning to credible and authentic negotiations on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” An said Washington’s refusal to accept the proposal for suspensions demonstrates again that the United States will continue to increase the capabilities of the South Korean military while trying to prevent North Korea from having its own national defense. The U.S. should now stop pushing its “hostile policy … and should be bold enough to choose a different approach, to change its course — that is, change its policy hostile to the DPRK,” An said. “If this proposal is put in practice this year, many things will be possible this year on the Korean peninsula that has very meaningful implications, and that’s why we have put forward this proposal directly to the United States government,” An said. He refused to answer several questions on what could happen if the U.S. accepted — or what might happen if it again said “no” to the proposal. (Edith M. Lederer, “North Korea Again Urges U.S. to Suspend Military Exercises,” Associated Press, January 13, 2015)


1/13/15:
Noting that North Korea’s voluntary give-up of nuclear weapons is fantasy, the U.S. government said that Washington will expand sanctions by mobilizing all means at our disposal. On North Korea and some others, President Barack Obama declared that the U.S. will ensure to make the North feel judgment of justice in full force. Sung Kim, the U.S. State Department’s Special Representative for North Korea Policy who is in charge of Washington’s North Korea policy, told a hearing at the House Foreign Relations Committee on the day that Washington will broadly pressure Pyongyang by mobilizing all measures at disposal to ensure that Pyongyang will pay the price for its illegal acts, adding that Washington has no fantasy that Pyongyang will voluntarily give up provocations such as illegal weapons and nuclear tests, and human rights violations. He went on to say that if North Korea makes decision on destructive policy, the U.S. will ensure that the communist regime pays a high cost, and eventually curtail options for it to choose by reducing funds used in nuclear and ballistic missiles. Mentioning executive order No. 13687 on sanctions against North Korea that was issued after the North’s hacking of Sony Pictures, Daniel Glaser, assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, also told the hearing that it is an expression of resolution meant to hold the North accountable for its acts, adding that the Department of Treasury will use far-reaching, strong measures of sanctions to crack down on the North’s illegal acts. Meanwhile, on the South Korean government’s recent offer to the North to hold dialogue, Sung Kim told reporters from South Korea and other countries that the U.S. trusts in constructive dialogue, but expects that inter-Korean dialogue (will be conducted under the condition) should support the U.S.’ efforts for denuclearization (of the Korean Peninsula). He indicated that improvement in inter-Korean relations should be done under the condition that practical measures for North Korea’s denuclearization are taken, remarks that could be effectively interpreted as Washington’s demand to South Korea to adjust speed in pursuing inter-Korean dialogue, and hence will likely spark possible controversy. (Dong-A Ilbo, “Obama Vows to “Judge N.K. in Full Force for Hacking,” January 15, 2015)


1/18/15:
Rodong Sinmun: “The United States announced that it would stage joint military maneuvers from the beginning of March, insisting that it cannot cancel Key Resolve and Foal Eagle because they are “drills for defense.” Timed to coincide with this, provocative outbursts extremely rattling the nerves of the DPRK are heard from the U.S. riff-raffs vied with each other to claim at a recent Congressional hearing that it is necessary to use all possible means to force north Korea to dismantle nukes and missiles. They are crying out for tightening the sanctions against the DPRK with not only its vassal forces but countries around the Korean peninsula involved, urging it to observe regulations and norms of international law and asserting that Pyongyang should be re-listed as a sponsor of terrorism. …The U.S. is scheming to bring the situation on the peninsula to the brink of a war this year, too, by pursuing a policy for pressure upon the DPRK, not for detente. …There is no reason for the U.S. not to cancel the projected joint saber-rattling if it is truly concerned for peace and security on the peninsula. The U.S. is talking about “observance of regulations and norms of international law” while brandishing the stick of sanctions against the DPRK. This is absolutely illogical. The DPRK will not recognize all sorts of unreasonable resolutions on sanctions cooked up by the hostile forces to infringe upon its sovereignty and will never be bound to them in the future, too. The U.S. is sadly mistaken if it calculates it can bring the Korean people who regard independence as their life and soul to their knees through sanctions. Pressure will not help solve any issue. Whoever comes in attack, ignorant of his rival, is bound to suffer a big setback. The U.S. would be well advised to properly understand its rival and approach it. No vicious and sinister trick and method can ever work on the DPRK as it has the great Songun politics and such powerful weapon as single-minded unity. The U.S. had better make a bold policy switchover, not clinging to its reckless hostile policy toward the DPRK.” (KCNA, “Neither Pressure Nor Sanctions Can Work on the DPRK: Rodong Sinmun, January 18, 2015)


1/19/15:
South Korean President Park Geun-hye called on officials to create conditions to allow North Korea to come forward for talks in the latest conciliatory gesture toward Pyongyang to jump-start stalled dialogue. Park also said the two Koreas should start substantial dialogue to lay the groundwork for their potential unification. The call came as North Korea has remained silent on South Korea’s recent offer to ministerial talks in January to discuss such bilateral issues as the reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. “I hope that you will make efforts to come up with conditions under which North Korea can respond,” Park said in a meeting at the presidential office where she received a briefing on South Koreas’ policy on North Korea, defense and foreign affairs. She did not elaborate on what she meant by conditions, though they appear to suggest that South Korea should take steps to stop its people from sending propaganda leaflets to North Korea. Park’s thinly veiled request came days after North Korea’s powerful National Defense Commission urged South Korea to clarify whether Seoul is serious about dialogue with Pyongyang or whether it will persist in the anti-North Korean leafleting campaign. (Yonhap, “Park Calls for Creating Conditions for Talks with N. Korea,” January 19, 2015) South Korea plans to ramp up efforts to prepare for unification and seek dialogue with North Korea on a variety of cooperative projects this year, the government said Monday. Under the plan, Seoul will push for a trial run of a rail line connecting Seoul to the North Korean cities of Pyongyang and Sinuiju and try to enact a law to lay the foundation for the peaceful reunification of the divided Korean Peninsula, the unification, foreign and defense ministries said in their joint policy report to President Park Geun-hye for this year. Details and schedules of the plans have yet to be determined through future discussion with the North, officials said. “The government has set this year as a starting point for widening discussion over unification and making progress in inter-Korean relations as it marks the 70th anniversary of independence from Japanese colonial rule, as well as the South-North division,” a unification ministry official said. Under the policy plan, Seoul will also push for a variety of joint inter-Korean commemorative events to mark the 70th anniversary of what are now the two Koreas’ independence in 1945 from Japan’s colonial rule. The South also plans to set up Korean cultural centers in Seoul and Pyongyang to induce better cultural exchanges. Besides that, Seoul will seek other joint projects with the North on the three non-political fields of humanitarian assistance, environment and culture as part of the unification preparatory efforts. Other envisioned joint plans include the opening of a logistics route that connects a South Korean port to the railway linking North Korea’s Rajin port to the Russian border city of Khasan. Despite the envisioned fence-mending measures, South Korea will go ahead with its annual joint military exercises with the United States this year, a high-ranking defense ministry official said on background, rejecting the North’s recent calls for scrapping them.” [The government] maintains its stance that joint South Korea-U.S. exercises should be carried out continually and consistently … because they are a core part of strong national defense capacity building,” the defense official said, adding that “for that reason, the defense ministry cannot accept North Korea’s calls over joint South Korea-U.S. exercises.” (Yonhap, “S. Korea to redouble Efforts to Prep for Reunification,” January 19, 2015) The feasibility of many of the proposals, however, remain unclear as almost all require North Korea’s acceptance and cooperation. Among the proposals presented was an ambitious plan by the Ministry of Unification to restore the two Koreas’ western and eastern railways to operate trains from Seoul to the North Korean cities of Rajin and Sinuiju. “Because this year marks the 70th anniversary of liberation, we decided that the timing is right to push forward this project,” said Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae. “The two Koreas must reach an agreement first, but we believe this project can be carried out easily once Pyongyang accepts it.” He said the Park government’s goal is linking the railways and operating trains in time for the August 15 Liberation Day. Because the Gyeongui Line is already linked and the government has enough data based on past surveys, Ryoo said he sees no particular problem in operating a train from Seoul to Sinuiju. According to the ministry’s plan for trial operations of the inter-Korean railways, a train will depart from Seoul using the Gyeongui Line to reach the northeastern city of Sinuiju via Pyongyang. On another route, a train will depart from Seoul to reach Rajin, located near the northwestern border with China. It will travel to the North using the Gyeongui Line but change lines at Pyongsan and go through Wonsan to the northeastern city of Rajin. It was not the first time that inter-Korean railroad projects were discussed by the South Korean government. The two Koreas already restored the severed segments of the western Gyeongui Line and the eastern Donghae Line and operated trains in trial programs in May 2007. The two cross-border railways, however, were never put in actual use. Other proposals announced today included a plan to appoint officials in each ministry to oversee tasks related to unification preparation. Plans to create inter-Korean agricultural complexes and expand health assistance to mothers and children as well as the globalization of the Kaesong Industrial Complex were also announced. The Foreign and Unification Ministries also said they will put efforts into ways to dismantle the North’s nuclear programs and improve inter-Korean relations, but they presented no specifics. Today’s presentation prompted criticism that hasty ideas without substance were made public for the sake of briefing the president. “Many of the ideas are abstract,” said Park Ihn-hwi, professor of international relations at Ewha Womans University. “They make us wonder how possibly the government can realize them. Because the government was overly ambitious, ministries appeared to have presented doubtful, unfeasible visions.” “It’s not surprising that the ministries are carrying out plans to implement the leader’s will to prepare for unification this year,” said Koh Yu-hwan, professor of North Korea studies at Dongguk University. “But preparing for unification without a tangible vision or a specific direction and without keeping in mind the need to cooperate with the North, it will all end up as a castle in the air.” Experts also said the government failed to present proposals attractive enough to lure Pyongyang to sit down at the negotiating table. “The North has insisted that lifting the May 24 economic sanctions and resuming the Mount Kumgang tour program are pre-conditions for the talks, but the government failed to present any ideas on resolving either of those issues,” said Yang Moo-jin, a North Korea expert at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. Even the unification minister admitted that the government is in a basic dilemma. “For the various projects to succeed, the two Koreas must have talks,” Ryoo said. “The first step to resolve distrust and military tensions between the two Koreas is an inter-Korean dialogue, but the North is not responding to our talk offers, while it keeps making complaints, making us doubt its willingness for talks.” Even the railway proposal, which the government explained in some detail, was received pessimistically. “If the Park government is pushing forward the railway project as a one-time event, it can’t have any significance,” said Cho Bong-hyun, an analyst at the IBK Institute. “The North will accept the plan only when the proposal comes with the possibility of having further cooperative logistics and economic projects in the future.” The Foreign Ministry presented an even more ambitious plan of operating an express train from Seoul to Europe via China, Mongolia and Russia. Its feasibility is also dependent upon the North’s acceptance. “I cannot say whether the train will pass through the North or not, but we are pushing it forward as part of a bigger picture,” said Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se. At the session, President Park urged the government to create an environment in which the North can respond to the South’s offer of talks, reiterating her position that starting government-to-government talks with the North is Seoul’s top priority. (Ser Myo-ja and Jeong Won-yeob, “Seoul Proposes Linked Railroads with the North,” JoongAng Ilbo, January 20, 2015)

He was the poster boy for human rights atrocities in North Korea; a soft-spoken survivor of the North’s cruel gulags who eventually met such dignitaries as John Kerry in his campaign to focus attention on the North’s abuses. His harrowing tales of life in a prison camp — including being forced to watch his mother and brother being executed — stunned even those steeped in defectors’ stories and made him a star witness for an unprecedented United Nations’ investigation of abuses by the North’s rulers. Now, that survivor, Shin Dong-hyuk, is retracting central facts of his life story, memorialized in a 2012 book, “Escape from Camp 14,” by a former Washington Post reporter that has been published in 27 languages. Shin, who gives his age as 32, now says that the key fact that set him apart from other defectors — that he and his family had been incarcerated at a prison that no one expected to leave alive — was only partly true, and that he actually served most of his time in the less brutal Camp 18. He also said that the torture he endured as a teenager, instead happened years later and was meted out for very different reasons. Shin’s confession has raised fears among other prison camp survivors and South Korean human rights activists that it could stall an already difficult campaign by the United States and other nations to get the Security Council to push for an investigation at the International Criminal Court. In a twist, Shin’s story began to unravel because of his fame — and his success in helping push for the United Nations inquiry. Increasingly angry over the push for accountability at the United Nations, North Korea posted a nearly 10-minute video in October, called “Lie and Truth,” exposing what it called Shin’s many lies. The video was laced with propaganda for the brutal police state, but it also included an interview with his father, who was recognized by another defector, a woman who had served time at Camp 18. She and other defectors then began to talk quietly with a handful of South Korean reporters about their suspicions that Mr. Shin and his family had never served time at the harsher camp in what is known as a “total-control zone.” As questions mounted, Shin came under increasing pressure to defend his story. On January 17, he confessed to the author of “Escape from Camp 14,” Blaine Harden, and confirmed his retractions yesterday in a phone interview with the New York Times. “I am sorry to a lot of people,” Shin said by telephone from the United States, where he recently married a Korean-American woman. “I knew I could hide it no longer, but I dithered because friends feared the damage my coming out might do to the movement for North Korean human rights.” A post on his Facebook page urged his supporters to fight on to expose North Korea’s treatment of its people. “For my family, for the suffering political prisoners, for the suffering North Korean people, each of you still have a voice and an ability to fight for us and against this evil regime,” the post says, adding that he may no longer be able to carry on his own campaign. It is difficult to overestimate the influence Shin has had in the long effort to bring international attention to rights abuses in the North. Activists have long contended that the United States and others mainly ignored the abuses and focused instead on the external threat posed by the North’s growing nuclear arsenal. In December 2012, Shin, together with another gulag survivor, took part in a meeting with Navi Pillay, then the United Nations human rights chief, in her Geneva office, according to Rupert Colville, who had served as her spokesman. Ms. Pillay cited the survivors’ accounts the next month when she publicly urged stronger international action against North Korea and the creation of an international inquiry into human rights conditions. After the commission issued its scathing report, Shin appeared with Kerry at an unusual event on the sidelines of the General Assembly in which Kerry, too, added his voice to efforts to draw attention to human rights in North Korea. Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said yesterday that Shin’s change of heart did not diminish the findings of the yearlong United Nations inquiry, which relied on the testimony of 80 witnesses and more than 240 confidential interviews with victims and other witnesses who would not speak publicly for fear of reprisals. “The commission report is air tight with or without Shin,” Adams said. In a phone interview, Michael Kirby, the Australian judge who led the United Nations investigation, noted that the “commission deals with very serious abuses of human rights that go back over 70 years.” In his revised account, Shin stuck to many of the key details he gave to the United Nations Commission of Inquiry. Shin’s story, which he repeated many times in recent years, is remarkable. He said he was born and grew up at Camp 14 — a sprawling cluster of villages in mountains north of the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, surviving hunger and torture until he miraculously escaped in 2005, at 22, by crawling over the body of a dead friend electrocuted by a fence surrounding the camp. He was the first North Korean who claimed to have escaped from a prison camp in the North. More than a dozen other camp survivors have escaped to South Korea, but all had been freed after serving terms in prisons that are used for re-education as well as punishment. Among his more gruesome tales, Shin had said sadistic prison guards dangled him over a fire when they suspected him of plotting to escape with his family and chopped off a fingertip when he dropped a sewing machine. He now says the guards actually hurt him because he had escaped from Camp 18 and been caught. The Washington Post first reported Shin’s revisions. Yesterday, Harden declined to be interviewed, but in a statement he provided to the Times he said that Shin said he had not realized that changing the details of his story for the book would be a problem. “I didn’t want to tell exactly what happened in order not to relive these painful moments,” the statement quoted Shin as saying. It is difficult to verify the accounts of North Korean defectors because the country is so isolated. In an email yesterday, Harden said he had stressed in his book that Shin could be an unreliable narrator of his life. When asked if copies of the book would be pulled from stores, a spokeswoman for Penguin Books, said that “we are working with the author on an accurate understanding of the facts.” Shin’s latest account has raised its own questions. He now says he escaped Camp 18 twice, in 1999 and 2001, was caught both times, and eventually handed to the infamous Camp 14. “He is still lying,” said a North Korean defector who said he was in Camp 18, speaking on condition of anonymity because he has family in the North. “You just cannot escape a North Korean prison camp twice, as he said he did, and is still alive and manages to escape a third time, this time from the total-control zone.” During the phone interview, Shin cited “great mental stress” while declining to explain how he escaped so many times from heavily guarded camps. Another former inmate, Chung Kwang-il, said he could not understand why Shin lied. “Without saying he was from Camp 14, he had remarkable stories to tell, a good witness to North Korean human rights abuse,” he said. “I guess he somehow thought he needed a more dramatic story to attract attention.”(Choe Sang-hun, “Prominent North Korean Defector Recants Parts of His Story of Captivity,” New York Times, January 19, 2015, p. A-9)


1/18-19/15:
An American delegation of academics and former senior officials urged the resumption of official nuclear talks during two days of informal meetings with North Korea’s top nuclear envoy, a former senior U.S. diplomat said. The North Korean diplomat, Ri Yong Ho, repeated to reporters his country’s longstanding demand that Washington and Seoul stop annual military drills that Pyongyang says are invasion preparations. The U.S. and South Korea say the drills are routine and defensive. Neither Ri nor former U.S. special envoy for North Korea policy Stephen Bosworth said anything likely to change the deadlock between North Korea and its neighbors and Washington over Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear-armed missiles that could hit the American mainland. But even an informal discussion is seen as a small step forward at a time of high tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Washington and Pyongyang have no formal diplomatic ties, but former U.S. officials occasionally meet with North Korean diplomats in so-called Track Two talks to discuss the North’s nuclear program and other issues .North Korea has indicated willingness to rejoin long-stalled nuclear talks, but has balked at the U.S. demand that it first take concrete steps to show it remains committed to past nuclear pledges. North Korea recently told the United States that it is willing to impose a temporary moratorium on its nuclear tests if Washington scraps its military drills with South Korea this year. Washington called the linking of the military drills with a possible nuclear test “an implicit threat,” but said it was open to dialogue with North Korea. Pyongyang is thought to have a handful of crude nuclear bombs and has conducted three nuclear tests since 2006. But experts are divided on how far the opaque government has come in the technology needed to miniaturize a warhead so it can be placed on a missile. Bosworth told the reporters that the U.S. side sees a “priority need to get official discussion back underway to resume a dialogue” among the Koreas, the U.S., Japan, Russia and China. Those six-nation talks over Pyongyang’s nuclear program haven’t been held since late 2008. Since then North Korea has conducted nuclear and missile tests and threatened Washington and Seoul with nuclear strikes. Ri reiterated his country’s position that the “root cause that aggravates the tension on the Korean Peninsula is none other than the large-scale joint military exercise between U.S. and South Korea, which is being held annually.” (Maye E. Wong, “U.S. Concludes Nuke Talks with N. Korean Diplomat,” Associated Press, January 19, 2015) The chief nuclear negotiator of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) said on Monday that he has explained the intentions and purpose of the recent proposal put forward by the DPRK at an unofficial meeting with former senior officials and experts from the United States. “We provided detailed information of the intentions and purpose of this proposal,” Ri Yong Ho, the DPRK’s Six Party Talks representative, told reporters after the two-day meeting in Singapore. Ri said that the root cause aggravating the tension on the Korean Peninsula is “none other than” the large-scale joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea which has been held annually. “To put an end to this large-scale joint military exercise … is the first step towards easing the tension on the Korean Peninsula,” he said. Asked what pre-conditions the DPRK is setting for it to return to the six-party talks, Ri said “For the first time, we had proposed the meeting without any preconditions.” The closed-door meeting in Singapore concluded today. Former US special representative for DPRK policy Stephen Bosworth, one of the US participants in the meeting, said that the two sides also had extensive exchanges of views as to the atmosphere in the United States. “We had very useful discussions of not so much what’s happened but what could happen in the future,” he said, reading a prepared statement. Bosworth, who emphasized that he and his colleagues from the United States were participating in the meeting as private citizens, said that the priority for the US side is the need to get official discussions underway, resume the multilateral talks and deal with the issues of denuclearization and other elements of the joint statement from the Six-Party talks of September 2005. He said that there is no plan for a next meeting at present. The meeting in Singapore came after the United States rejected the proposal by the DPRK that it stands ready to suspend its nuclear tests if the United States suspends its annual joint military exercises with South Korea. The United States has obviously downplayed the importance of the meeting, with its embassy in Singapore saying that the US government is not involved. Leon Sigal, director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the US-based non-profit organization Social Science Research Council, told reporters that the meeting would cover the DPRK’s nuclear missile programs. “It’s one of two ways of taking each other’s temperature,” he said yesterday. (Xinhua, “DPRK Negotiator Explains Proposal at Unofficial Meeting,” January 19, 2015) Stephen Bosworth, a former U.S. special envoy for North Korea policy, met with North Korean Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong Ho, the country’s senior representative to the six-party talks on the nuclear issue, in Singapore on January 18 and 19. In an interview on the phone with the Dong-A Ilbo on January 21, the former U.S. envoy for North Korea policy put weight on the possibility for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to visit Russia. “North Korea seemed to have interest in multilateral talks (with China and Russia, etc.), as much as the North-U.S. dialogues,” said the U.S. ex-official on the likelihood that the communist regime’s supreme leader would visit Russia to attend the May 9 celebrations of the anniversary of the Soviet Union`s defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. “Although Ri did not talk about plans or schedules to visit Russia in detail, I had an impression that the North was exploring possibilities of multilateral talks (beyond North Korea-the U.S.) through multiple dialogue channels to resolve the current (diplomatic) challenges,” said the ex-special representative for North Korea. “North Korea`s vice foreign minister asked many questions on the atmosphere in Washington in regards to strict sanctions against North Korea, expressing keen attention on the issue. It gave an impression that he wanted to hear even from us about it. There were conversations about cyber-attacks on Sony Pictures Entertainment.” The former U.S. special envoy for North Korea policy said, “New concession (required by the international community or the U.S. such as denuclearization) was not discussed or any alternatives was provided.” When asked about the attitude of North Korea on the inter-Korean high-level talks, Bosworth answered, “Ri emphasized the necessity of dialogues. But the inter-Korean talks were not a core agenda of this meeting and in-depth discussion was not held on the issue.” (Dong-A Ilbo, “North Korea Pays Much Attention to Multilateral Talks,” January 24, 2015) The United States and North Korea have been actively discussing the possibility of returning to denuclearization talks, raising the prospect of a new round of diplomacy even as Washington takes a tougher line against Pyongyang. The countries’ nuclear envoys have been discussing the idea of “talks about talks,” according to multiple people with knowledge of the conversations. But they have not been able to agree on the logistics — in no small part because of North Korea’s continuing Ebola quarantine. “We want to test if they have an interest in resuming negotiations,” a senior U.S. administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “I think we’ve made it very clear that we would like to see them take some steps first.” Those steps would include suspending work at North Korea’s nuclear facilities and pledging not to conduct any further nuclear tests, he said. After years of broken North Korean promises, American negotiators are wary about taking Pyongyang at its word. But North Korea reacted angrily yesterday to the suggestion that it, not Washington, was the hurdle to resuming talks. When North Korea said it was willing to suspend nuclear tests if the United States and South Korea canceled annual military drills, the State Department turned down the offer, calling it “an implicit threat.” The immediate response surprised proponents of engagement, who say the offer, although unacceptable, represented an opening from North Korea that should have been considered. But behind the scenes, former and current officials have been discussing the idea of holding talks about how to resume the six-party negotiations aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Last month, a group of former American officials — including Stephen Bosworth and Joseph DeTrani, both of whom have a long history of dealing with North Korea — met in Singapore with Ri Yong Ho, North Korea’s vice foreign minister and lead nuclear negotiator. The meeting was designed to check “the lay of the land,” according to one person familiar with the talks. Multiple Americans with knowledge of the various discussions spoke about them on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. The Singapore meeting resulted in the suggestion that Sung Kim, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea policy, meet with a North Korean counterpart. He was in Asia last week for meetings with Japanese, South Korean and Chinese officials, and he is understood to have raised the prospect of holding a meeting with the North Koreans in Beijing. North Korea offered to send Ri to Beijing or suggested that Sung Kim meet in Pyongyang with Kim Kye Gwan and Kang Sok Ju, both more senior in the Foreign Ministry than Ri. U.S. officials thought Kim’s and Kang’s ranks were better matched with Sung Kim’s position but did not like the “optics” of the American envoy traveling to Pyongyang, because it would have made the North Koreans look as though they were in the stronger position, according to the people close to the discussions. Another big hurdle: North Korea still has strict quarantine rules in place following last year’s Ebola outbreak in West Africa. All people who have traveled outside the country — including, apparently, Ri, after his return from Singapore — are required to stay at home for 21 days. (Anna Fifield, “U.S. and North Korea Have Been Secretly Discussing Having ‘Talks about Talks,’” Washington Post, February 2, 2015)

DeTrani: “On January 18 and 19, six North Korean officials, with its Vice Foreign Minister, Ri Yong Ho, in the lead, met with me and three colleagues for unofficial track II discussions on the poor state of relations between the US and North Korea (DPRK). Our last meeting with this group was in October 2013. The discussions were cordial and candid. North Korea’s objective was clear: Argue for the suspension of joint military exercises between the US and South Korea, in return for a moratorium on nuclear tests. Vice Minister Ri said military exercises were a threat to a North Korea convinced that its objective was regime change. Suspending military exercises would build trust, he said, with North Korea then halting nuclear tests and efforts to miniaturize its nuclear weapons. Ri’s initial comments also dealt with efforts to improve North. Korea’s economy and efforts to improve relations with countries in Europe, Africa and Latin America. He mentioned China once, saying relations were normal, while noting that relations were improving with Russia. He contrasted US improved relations with Cuba and Iran with its hard line policy toward North Korea. He said the lead role of the US in condemning North Korea in the United Nations for human right violations and, separately, for the hacking of Sony Pictures were proof of a hostile policy. My colleagues and I told Vice Minister Ri that the North’s recent proposal to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea was unrealistic. The US and South Korea are allies and have conducted these joint military exercises for over 40 years, insuring that the US-South Korea Joint Military Command is prepared to respond to any military provocation from the North. Regime change in the North is not the objective of these military exercises. Indeed, the exercises are between allies and never part of denuclearization negotiations. Much time was spent telling Vice Minister Ri that in our opinion no one in Washington currently is interested in a dialogue with North Korea. That since Kim Jong-un took over in December 2011, relations with the US and the international community have deteriorated to its lowest level. Launching missiles, conducting a nuclear test, threatening the US with a pre-emptive nuclear attack and its recent cyber attack on Sony Pictures convinced the US that North Korea was and is a threat to regional and global security. The subject matter experts who follow North Korea also are convinced that North Korea will never dismantle its nuclear weapons program and thus dialogue and negotiations with North Korea would be useless. That the North’s decision to enshrine its nuclear program in the state’s constitution, in line with its Byongjin policy of pursuing economic development and nuclear progress, was further proof that North Korea would never dismantle its nuclear weapons. In that context, Minister Ri was told that any remote chance of a dialogue with the US, in our unofficial view, would at a minimum require a commitment from North Korea that the leadership in Pyongyang was and is committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, in line with the September 19, 2005 Joint Statement signed in Beijing, between North Korea and the other five countries part of the Six Party Talks negotiations. Thus any North Korea overture to the US, via unofficial or official channels, must include, in our view, a statement that North Korea is committed to the ultimate objective of the comprehensive and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Vice Minister Ri said that many in Pyongyang don’t like the September 2005 Joint Statement, maintaining that the Joint Statement requires that the North dismantle its nuclear weapons and nuclear programs before they accrue any benefits. Vice Minister Ri was told that his colleagues in Pyongyang who negotiated this agreement know that it’s based on an “action for action” formula, whereby all actions by the six countries are taken simultaneously, with North Korea receiving security assurances and economic assistance as they take steps to dismantle its nuclear programs, with an eventual dialogue on the provision of light water reactors, as they make progress with dismantlement. Vice Minister Ri rhetorically asked if normalization of relations with the US would follow the dismantlement of its nuclear programs. He was told what he knew: Normalization is a bilateral issue and with denuclearization, bilateral discussions with the US would be possible. These discussions would focus on North Korea’s illicit activities, i.e. counterfeiting of US currency and pharmaceuticals and detailed discussions on human rights issues, to include transparency and benchmarks on progress dealing with this issue, and time lines for progress. It was mentioned that with such a dialogue and with progress on these important bilateral issues, the establishment of Interest Sections or Liaison Offices in our respective capitals could be possible, in our unofficial view, prior to the establishment of normal relations. After two days of these frank but cordial discussions, Vice Minister Ri left us with the clear impression that he would share with his leadership our view that North Korea must include, in any overture to the US, a statement committing North Korea to the eventual denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, in line with the September 2005 Joint Statement. With this commitment, we said, there may be a better chance that the US would be willing to enter into direct official discussions with North Korea. For someone like me who has been working and following issues with North Korea since 2000, it would seem prudent to meet officially with North Korea if they express a willingness to dismantle all of its nuclear programs, to include their uranium enrichment program, and pursuant to the September 19, 2005 Joint Statement, eventually permit IAEA monitors and inspectors into North Korea to insure that dismantlement of these programs is comprehensive and verifiable. Given enduring religious and territorial conflict in the Middle East and the escalating terrorist threat in that region and in Africa and Russia’s moves in Ukraine, it may develop that issues with North Korea prove to be less enduring and resolvable. Only be engaging with North Korea will we be able to make this determination.” (Joseph DeTrani, “Candid Talks with North Korean Officials,” Asia Times, February 3, 2015)


1/20/15:
A South Korean activist group led by a defector from North Korea said it had launched balloons with messages critical of the North’s leader across the border, defying a request by Seoul to refrain as it pursues dialogue with Pyongyang. Park Sang-hak, the North Korean defector who has previously launched message balloons into the North, said his group late yesteray had secretly sent about 100,000 leaflets. He said at a news conference that if Pyongyang did not respond to the South’s call for a meeting by February 18, his group would send a massive number of DVD and USB (memory sticks) copies of the film ‘The Interview’ to the North. The movie features a fictional plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The North has said Washington has committed “an act of war” by allowing the movie to be made.The North has previously fired at the protest balloons near the border with shells landing in the South. The leaflets often single out the North’s young leader Kim Jong-un, questioning his legitimacy to rule a country where people struggle with poverty while his family lives in luxury and scarce resources are channeled to arms programs. (Jack Kim and Sohee Kim, “Leaflet Activist Urges North to Talk,” Reuters, Janaury 20, 2015)


1/21/15:
DoS: “Q: As we know, some former U.S. officials and experts and some DPRK diplomats had a meeting in Singapore to talk about the nuclear issue. And even after the meeting, the DPRK’s chief negotiator for the Six-Party Talks, he still emphasized that he wanted the United States to suspend the military trio with South Korea. As I understand, last week you have already rejected the proposal suspending the military trio. But I wonder, it looks like during the meeting they explained the intention and the purpose of the proposal. So I wonder if you have changed your position or if you are considering making some changes about the position. PSAKI: Nothing has changed on our position and we’re not considering making changes to our position. Q: And also according to some media coverage, the chief negotiator of the Six-Party Talks, he said this time it’s the first time he proposed no precondition to return to the negotiating table. So what do you think of this approach? …PSAKI: Well, I think the important point here is that the view of the United States, as well as our Six-Party partners, is that the — North Korea would need to abide by their international obligations, including the 2005 joint statement. And so we — the ball has long been in their court, but we certainly reject new proposals that don’t have any backing.” (Spokesperson Jen Psaki, DoS Daily Briefing, January 21, 2015)

The half-brother of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was recently appointed Pyongyang’s top envoy to the Czech Republic after serving 17 years as ambassador to Poland, a South Korean government official said. Kim Pyong-il is a younger brother of Kim Jong-il, the father of current leader Kim Jong-un. He will be replaced in Warsaw by Ri Kun, the director general for North American affairs at North Korea’s foreign ministry, the official said. “It has been determined that Kim Pyong-il recently took office as ambassador to the Czech Republic and Ri Kun has received (Poland’s) agrement to become ambassador to Poland,” the official said, referring to diplomatic protocol in which a host country endorses a candidate for ambassador. Cheong Seong-jang, a senior researcher at Seoul’s Sejong Institute, said the new assignment appears to be a move to prevent Kim Pyong-il from building a power base around him as he has held one position for 17 years. “Kim Pyong-il has been under Pyongyang’s watch and held in check all his life,” he said. (Yonhap, “Kim Jong-il’s Half-Brother Named Ambassador to Czech Republic,” Korea Times, January 21, 2015)


1/22/15:
President Barack Obama believes that North Korea will eventually collapse, and that the Internet will ultimately be more effective in changing the regime than military options or sanctions. Obama made the remark in an interview on Youtube at the White House, calling the North “the most isolated, the most sanctioned, the most cut-off nation on Earth. “The kind of authoritarianism that exists there, you almost can’t duplicate anywhere else,” He said. “It’s brutal and it’s oppressive and as a consequence, the country can’t really even feed its own people. Over time, you will see a regime like this collapse.” Because of the proximity of ally South Korea and the North’s nuclear arsenal, “the answer is not going to be a military solution,” Obama said. “We will keep on ratcheting the pressure, but part of what’s happening is that the environment that we’re speaking in today, the Internet, over time is going to be penetrating this country,” Obama said. “And it is very hard to sustain that kind of brutal authoritarian regime in this modern world. Information ends up seeping in over time and bringing about change, and that’s something that we are constantly looking for ways to accelerate,” he added. (Kim Young-jin, “Internet, Not Military Options, Will Bring down N.K.,” Korea Times, January 24, 2015)

The Obama Administration has a penchant for talking tough on sanctions while following through with little. The prime example is Iran, and now the pattern may repeat with North Korea. Washington this month responded to North Korea’s cyberattack on Sony Pictures by sanctioning 10 individuals and three entities tied to Pyongyang, including its Reconnaissance General Bureau, known as Unit 586 and believed to oversee Kim Jong-un’s cyberwarfare squads. “This step,” said the White House, “reflects the ongoing commitment of the United States to hold North Korea accountable for its destabilizing, destructive and repressive actions, particularly its efforts to undermine U.S. cybersecurity and intimidate U.S. businesses.” Yet the intelligence bureau and two trading firms blacklisted were already under U.S. sanctions for involvement in Pyongyang’s weapons programs and other illicit activities. So the new measures are “pretty light and symbolic at best,” said former CIA Director Michael Hayden. By contrast, Washington’s 2005 sanctions on Macau-based Banco Delta Asia forced a cascade of banks to cut ties with North Korea, imperiling Pyongyang’s access to military equipment and luxury goods. “These sanctions,” said Hayden, “are not that.” The best that can be said is that the new measures have potential, if implemented aggressively. The U.S. Treasury and State Departments now have the “flexibility” to target any North Korean official or agency, along with “any individual or entity who is providing them, in turn, material support,” said Treasury official Daniel Glaser last week. Yet the target list remains short and redundant. As sanctions expert Joshua Stanton asked, “Are Kim Jong-un’s billions in overseas assets blocked now, or only after State and Treasury get around to deciding that he’s an official of the North Korean government?” Though it runs a slave state of 23 million people, the Kim regime isn’t under the U.S. human-rights sanctions covering Burma, Congo and Zimbabwe. Nor is it designated a “primary money-laundering concern” under the Patriot Act, à la Burma and Iran, despite its leading role in currency counterfeiting and methamphetamine trafficking. Thanks to a Bush Administration blunder, Pyongyang was taken off the U.S. terror-sponsor list in 2008, even as it maintains ties to Iran and Syria. Returning North Korea to that list would trigger a range of export and financial sanctions and demonstrate U.S. seriousness. So would designating North Korea a primary money-laundering concern, as urged by the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act, which passed the House last year and will soon be reintroduced by Republican Ed Royce and Democrat Eliot Engel. Any bank doing business with a North Korean entity would then risk exclusion from the U.S. financial system—the sanction that caused a run on Banco Delta Asia in 2005 and spurred others to drop their North Korean accounts until the U.S. relented a year later.

Treasury’s Glaser appeared to endorse the Banco Delta Asia model in Congressional testimony last week, yet he also acknowledged that major Chinese banks still conduct business with sanctioned entities such as Korea Kwangson Bank. Glaser also wouldn’t say whether North Korea should be labeled a primary money-laundering concern. If the Obama Administration plans to oppose the Royce-Engel legislation, as it has several Iran sanctions bills, then North Korea has little to worry about. Blinking on sanctions would invite further aggression from Kim Jong-un. (Wall Street Journal, “Blinking on North Korea Sanctions: Kim Jong-un Is Getting off Easy on Sony Hack,” January 22, 2015)


1/23/15:
CPRK spokesman’s statement: “Shortly ago, the south Korean authorities asserted that it is the “national obligation” and the “top priority task” to settle the issue of “divided families,” adding that it is necessary to realize the reunion of “divided families” if the north-south dialogue is resumed. The south Korean chief executive, in particular, urged the north to come out for dialogue with “open heart” in order to fundamentally solve the issue of “divided families.” She claimed that the north was to blame for the failure to arrange the reunion of “divided families.” A spokesman for the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea in a statement [today] terms this acts of misinterpreting the essence of the grave situation where the issue of the inter-Korean relations including the reunion of divided families and relatives from the north and the south remain unsettled, and acts of misleading the public. This is an unbearable mockery and insult to the desire of all Koreans for the improved inter-Korean relations and the nation’s unity and reunification. …It was due to such hurdles as the “May 24 steps” taken by the south Korean authorities that reunification events which had been brisk between the north and the south since the publication of the June 15 joint declaration and cooperation undertakings between the north and the south, including joint unearthing of historical relics, academic symposiums, social and cultural exchange and tour of Mt. Kumgang, were suspended overnight and the most urgent humanitarian cooperation undertakings including the reunion of divided families and relatives failed to make progress. All these facts are well known to the world. Nevertheless, the south Korean authorities are talking a lot about the reunion of “divided families” and “exchange at non-governmental level” after blocking the north-south exchange and cooperation by themselves. This is self-contradictory sophism and height of shamelessness. No matter how noisily the south Korean authorities may talk about the reunion of “divided families” and “exchange” after building institutional barriers barring the reunion of divided families and relatives, no one will pay heed to those useless wordplays and hypocritical remarks. Even if the reunion of divided families and relatives takes place with “the May 24 steps” remaining in force, it will only serve the purpose of propaganda and will not help fundamentally settle the issue. If the south Korean authorities are truly concerned for the humanitarian issue, they should not only pay lip-service to the issue of “divided families” but lift before anything else the steps deliberately taken for confrontation. If they have true will to settle the issue of the north-south relations including the reunion of divided families and relatives, they should not play poor tricks to misrepresent the essence of the present situation and mislead the public but show their will in practice from a proper stand on the DPRK’s just proposal. The DPRK will follow what change the south Korean authorities will make in their stance together with all the compatriots.” (KCNA, “S. Korean Authorities Should Not Pay Lip Service to the Issue of ‘Divided Families,’” January 23, 2015)


1/25/15:
NDC Policy Department statement: “Growing stronger than ever before at present is the unanimous desire of the nation to break with the inglorious past and write a new history of the north-south relations, true to the noble intention of supreme leader Kim Jong-un, peerless great man. World people are also growing strong in their support and encouragement to it in response to the historic appeal for defusing the danger of war and creating a peaceful environment on the Korean peninsula. But even a basic climate for dialogue has not been created as the north-south relations are not freed from the phase of freeze. Noting that what is happening at present is very grave, the statement clarified the following principled stand: 1. The south Korean authorities should stop making willful interpretation of the measures of great significance in the nation’s history taken by the DPRK, and wagging their tongues at will. The great calls made at the outset of the new year reflect the ardent desire to put an end to the 70-year long national division and build earlier on this land a reunified powerful country, dignified and prosperous. But the south Korean authorities backed by their American master are deliberately interpreting and slandering the measures taken by the DPRK, far from deeply studying them and positively responding to them. To cite a typical example, they are slandering the precious historic measures hailed by all Koreans as an “option to get rid of international isolation”, “the last resort to have economic blockade lifted” and “a peace offensive aimed at stirring up conflict among south Koreans.” They have even gone so blind as to term those measures “proposals little different from the past ones,” “measures devoid of sincerity” and “sleight of hand to hold initiative.” It was not out of any calculation that the DPRK took such new measures. It was neither economic difficulties nor isolation and blockade that prompted it to take those measures. The undesirable and hostile forces should clearly understand that political isolation, economic blockade and military pressure will never work on the DPRK. We have never been benefited from the U.S. nor have we thought the south Korean authorities would help improve the living standard of our people. The south Korean authorities should neither misjudge nor make a mockery of the sincere will of the DPRK to put an end to the history of national division, a tragedy being suffered only by the Korean nation in the world. 2. The south Korean authorities should stop disappointing the nation with their double-dealing words and deeds. They are now loudly trumpeting about north-south dialogue and the improvement of the relations. The present chief executive has talked volumes, regardless of time and place, about “steadily stepping up preparations for unification,” “creating conditions for holding dialogue of any form”, “conducting trial operation of cross-peninsula railways” and holding dialogue and negotiations for “opening three channels for people’s livelihood, environment and culture” and giving “priority” to the reunions of divided families and relatives, while calling for “putting an end to the 70 years of severance and conflicts.” Her loud words are quite different from her practical deeds. South Korea has already made it an established fact to conduct Key Resolve and Foal Eagle joint military exercises from March and Ulji Freedom Guardian joint military exercises from August as planned while creating impression that they have nothing to do with the removal of the danger of war and the creation of a peaceful climate. Under the pretext of making full preparations for “taking combined defence posture”, south Korea, while currying favor with its American master, has introduced aggression troops including a flying corps of strategic bombers carrying nuclear warheads to its land and vicinity, souring the atmosphere for the improvement of the relations with saber-rattling. What matters is that such moves are being pushed forward in an undisguised manner as part of preparations for a preemptive attack on the DPRK in the run-up to the 65th anniversary of the conclusion of the shackling and sycophantic south Korea-U.S. “mutual defense pact.” 3. The south Korean authorities should clearly know that in case they persistently refuse to respond to the call of great significance in the nation’s history made by the DPRK, they will not be able to escape a stern punishment. Improving and developing the inter-Korean relations is the task of the times which brooks no further delay. The south Korean authorities should sincerely respond to our call for opening up a broad avenue to independent reunification by concerted efforts. Intolerable and unpardonable are the incompetent behaviors of the south Korean authorities criminalizing the just acts to improve the inter-Korean relations and allowing human scum inciting confrontation with fellow countrymen to go scot-free, their poor position of failing to create elementary atmosphere of dialogue and their treacherous acts of joining the U.S. in its moves against national reunification and moves for disturbing dialogue. It is nonsensical to allow another long period of the tragedy to last, though the nation has spent 70 years in misfortune and pain. The whole world knows well about the will of the DPRK to mercilessly punish the treacherous, anti-peace and anti-reunification acts of the hostile forces. The south Korean authorities should ponder over their behavior more than once. They should not forget even a moment that all Koreans are following all their moves with high vigilance, ready to punish them. The army and people of the DPRK will resolutely punish the south Korean authorities in case they continue challenging the historic steps taken by it to re-link the severed bonds and blood vessels of the nation and bring about a great change in mending the inter-Korean relations. (KCNA, “South Korean Authorities Should Not Forget That All Koreans Watch Them with High Vigilance: NDC,” January 25, 2015)

DPRK FoMin spokesman “answer to the question raised by KCNA as regards a string of accusations again let loose by U.S. President Obama against the DPRK: When interviewed by YouTube manufacturers on January 22, Obama talked about “system change” while slandering the Korean-style socialist system centered on the popular masses. He poured a whole gamut of accusations, calling the DPRK the most isolated, solitary and authoritarian country and the cruelest and repressed nation. He even talked rubbish that over time internet will find its way to north Korea and the flow of information into it will bring about a change, asserting that they keep exploring ways of speeding up the change. We cannot but be shocked to find that Obama, president of a “big country,” is so preoccupied with the inveterate repugnancy and hostility toward a sovereign state. The recent wild remarks made by Obama are nothing but a poor grumble of a loser driven into a tight corner in the all-out stand-off with the DPRK. This is little short of admitting himself that the U.S. lacks ability to stifle the DPRK and that a military option is not workable. After a series of defeats in its military attempts to stifle the DPRK, the U.S. now turned to internet to undermine the DPRK through the “influx of information.” It is, however, gravely mistaken if it thinks it can break the single-minded unity of the DPRK, which it failed to do with sanctions and pressure, with internet. The more openly the U.S. presses for the moves to undermine the DPRK, the stronger the single-minded unity of the DPRK will be. Over time the world will clearly see how the U.S. undergoes decline along with its totally bankrupt hostile policy toward the DPRK.” (KCNA, “DPRK Foreign Ministry Spokesman Blasts Obama’s Anti-DPRK Accusations,” January 25, 2015)

The United Nations will provide $2 million in aid to North Korea as part of its humanitarian efforts. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, part of the U.N. Secretariat responsible for humanitarian actions, plans to deliver the financial support to its peer organizations working in the reclusive regime, according to Radio Free Asia. The aid will be provided through the Central Emergency Response Fund, which has offered a total of $6.5 million to Pyongyang since 2011. The annual sum given to the communist state has varied each year: $5 million in 2011, $7 million in 2012 and $2.1 million in 2013. U.N. offices based in the North decide on the spending through negotiations with the head of United Nations Development Program stationed there. Other U.N. affiliated organizations that provide financial aid to the North include the World Food Plan, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund. (Yonhap, “U.N. to Provide N. Korea with $2 Million in Aid,” Korea Herald, January 25, 2015)


1/26/15:
South Korea and four parties to the six-way talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear program share the need to break the stalled process for Pyongyang’s denuclearization as early as possible, a Seoul official said. The official at Seoul’s foreign ministry said that the five parties, except for North Korea, have agreed on three principles for North Korea’s denuclearization. “The five parties have believed that there is the need to break the status quo as North Korea has been advancing its nuclear capabilities,” the ranking official told reporters, asking not to be named. “They also shared the view that the process for the denuclearization talks should be resumed as early as possible and the parties need to continue to explore creative ways to kick-start such a process.” (Yonhap, “S. Korea, 4 Nations Hope for Early Nuke Talks: Official,” January 26, 2015)

North Korea’s annual trade with its economic lifeline, China, fell 2.4 percent from a year ago in 2014, marking the first decline since 2009, data compiled by South Korea’s government trade agency showed. North Korea’s trade with China totaled US$6.39 billion last year, compared with $6.54 billion in 2013, according to the data provided by the Beijing unit of South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA). At least on paper, there were also no shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea for all of last year. A South Korean diplomatic source with knowledge of the matter, however, cautioned against reading too much into the official trade figures because China has provided crude oil to North Korea in the form of grant aid and such shipments were not recorded on paper. (Yonhap, “N. Korea’s 2014 Trade with China Marks 1st Drop in 5 Years,” January 26, 2015)

The commander of U.S. military forces in Korea is leading a high-level military strategy meeting this week examining how U.S. forces would respond to North Korea’s new mobile long-range missiles and the use of other weapons and capabilities, according to defense officials. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, will direct what the command is calling the Korean Strategy Seminar (KSS) at the U.S. Special Operations Command Wargame Center in Tampa. “The KSS brings together key leaders from across the U.S. government to consider how we can proactively support enhancing stability on the Korean peninsula,” said spokesman Andre Kok. “This includes consideration of the challenge presented by North Korean weapons of mass destruction, as well as how we may potentially enhance our support to the Republic of Korea’s role in maintaining regional stability.” The current seminar is the second of its type and “is an important step to ensuring interagency coordination and engagement,” he said. Defense officials said several North Korean conflict scenarios will be played out in the Tampa session, including efforts to counter North Korea’s new road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile, the KN-08, as well as discussion of how to counter Pyongyang’s cyber warfare capabilities. The KN-08 is a 6,000-mile range road-mobile ICBM that has been observed in North Korea on Chinese-made transporter erector launchers. Engine tests of the missile were carried out last year but a flight test has not been observed. Additionally, the seminar will examine the use of U.S. special operations forces that in the past have planned and practiced operations to sabotage North Korean weapons of mass destruction facilities and stockpiles inside the country, one of the most regimented totalitarian police and military states in the world. The war games are also expected to include discussion of how to counteract North Korea’s expected infiltration of large numbers of elite special operations commandos into South Korea during a conflict, considered a key asymmetric military threat. Defense officials said the seminar also could be preparation for U.S. retaliation against North Korea for the cyberattacks that damaged Sony’s computer networks, involved the theft of large amounts of proprietary information, and prompted the movie company to delay release of the comedy The Interview.Military spokesman declined to provide specifics on the war games. Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jeffrey Pool said the seminar will include senior officials of the Office of Secretary of Defense who will take part in portions of the classified strategy seminar. “The reason for hosting the seminar in Florida is the facility is able to accommodate discussions from a large number of participants at a high level of security classification,” he said. U.S. military officials in recent months have expressed growing worries over the KN-08, a missile with enough range to hit parts of the United States with a nuclear warhead. North Korea unveiled six KN-08s during a military parade in April 2012. An additional worry is recent intelligence indicating North Korea is developing a submarine-launched ballistic missile. Satellite photographs revealed the work on a submarine launcher and the disclosure that the North has a submarine capable of firing missiles. The Free Beacon first disclosed the SLBM work in August. The four-star Army general in October told reporters he believes North Korea has the capability of miniaturizing a small warhead and mating it to one of the KN-08 missile. “I don’t know that they have that capability,” he said Oct. 24 at the Pentagon. “I’m just saying as a commander, I’ve got to assume they have the capabilities to put it together. We’ve not seen it tested at this point. And as you know, for something that’s that complex, without it being tested, the probability of it being effective is pretty darn low.” Scaparrotti also said North Korea’s cyberattack capabilities are not as formidable as others around the world, but that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “is focused on developing cyber capabilities.” “We’ve seen where he has had impact, obviously, in South Korea and their business and commercial entities. It’s things like disruption of service, et cetera,” he said. The Obama administration imposed sanctions on several North Korean entities in response to the Sony hack. Defense officials said that because North Korea is not heavily reliant on information systems, a U.S. cyber counterattack against the communist state is only one option among many being considered by commanders. Military options could include covert sabotage or intelligence operations targeting high-value North Korean military or political entities. David S. Maxwell, a North Korea expert at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies, said the Korea Strategy Seminar could include an array of scenarios, such as how to deal with North Korean military provocations aimed at gaining political and economic concessions, a catastrophic collapse of the Kim family regime, or a North Korean military strike aimed at reunifying the Korean peninsula under Pyongyang’s control. Other contingencies that could be explored may include an examination of the North’s global illicit activities, such as currency counterfeiting and illicit drug trafficking, or how to deal with the North’s trafficking in weapons of mass destruction and missile technology. “I do not know what the focus is on but given the complexity of the security situation, this range of challenges provides a variety of scenarios for an exercise and in particular an interagency exercise,” Maxwell said in an email. The use of Special Operations Command’s Wargame center also is significant, Maxwell said, as the command provides support for all major combatant commands during war or major military operations. “What I think is important about this exercise is that it does illustrate the importance of the security situation on the Korean Peninsula and conducting it at USSOCOM allows Gen. Scaparrotti and his team to capitalize on not only a world class gaming and simulation center at the headquarters, but also the fact that USSOCOM is probably the most advanced command in bringing together the interagency [process] outside of Washington to look at U.S. strategic problems.” The special operations command has developed strong interagency ties that “have tremendous value in any strategic security scenario to include those on the Korean Peninsula,” Maxwell said. In September, Adm. Samuel Locklear, then-commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, also expressed worries over the new KN-08. Locklear said North Korea is working to deploy the mobile ICBM and said “road-mobile systems” limit the “amount of time you have to deal with it, particularly if you want to deal with it before they launch it.” The four-star admiral said it was difficult to assess how close North Korea is to fielding the KN-08. “So we watch it very, very carefully and it’s kind of just on an upward trajectory of the things that over time can give us concern,” he told Bloomberg News. Dealing with North Korea is one of the “most dangerous” security challenges, Locklear said, because Pyongyang has produced “pictures of mushroom clouds over New York City and Washington.” On the overall threat posed by Pyongyang, Scaparrotti said in October: “In recent years, North Korea has focused on development of asymmetric capabilities. These capabilities include several hundred ballistic missiles, one of the world’s largest chemical weapons stockpiles, a biological weapons research program, and the world’s largest special operations force, as well as an active cyber-warfare capability.” The command’s Wargame Center, where the KSS is being held, conducts war games, rehearsal of concept drills, senior seminars, and other planning efforts, according to the Special Operations Command website. The Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on the North Korean military described the KN-08, which the Pentagon calls the Hwasong-13. “If successfully designed and developed, the Hwasong-13 likely would be capable of reaching much of the continental United States, assuming the missiles displayed are generally representative of missiles that will be fielded,” the report said. On North Korea’s military cyber warfare capabilities, the report said North Korea “probably has a military offensive cyber operations (OCO) capability.” “Given North Korea’s bleak economic outlook, [offensive computer operations] may be seen as a cost-effective way to develop asymmetric, deniable military options,” the report said. “Because of North Korea’s historical isolation from outside communications and influence, it is also likely to use Internet infrastructure from third-party nations. This increases the risk of destabilizing actions and escalation on and beyond the Korean Peninsula.” North Korea’s large special operations forces (SOF)—some 60,000 commandos—were described in the report as “among the most highly trained, well-equipped, best-fed, and highly motivated forces” in the North Korean military. “As North Korea’s conventional capabilities decline relative to the ROK and United States, North Korea appears to increasingly regard SOF capabilities as vital for asymmetric coercion,” the report said. Maxwell, the Georgetown North Korea expert, said the last time he could recall an interagency exercise focusing on Korean security was after President Bill Clinton in 1997 signed Presidential Decision Directive-56 (PDD-56) on managing complex contingency operations. That directive coincided with fears at the time that the regime in Pyongyang might collapse, creating a catastrophic situation in the region. “It seems to me that this exercise being conducted by [U.S. Forces Korea] with the support of USSOCOM is the best opportunity for interagency planning since 1997,” he said. (Bill Gertz, “U.S. Commander in Korea Leads Secret Strategy Session,” Washington Free Beacon, January 26, 2015)


1/?/15:
Japan and North Korea held unofficial talks in late January in Shanghai, but Pyongyang did not present new information about the fate of Japanese citizens it abducted decades ago, a Japanese government source said February 12. But Tokyo sees the two sides “appear to have come to build a relation of mutual trust” because Pyongyang sent a senior official of the Ministry of State Security, North Korea’s secret police organ directly linked to leader Kim Jong-un, to the talks, the source said. Kang Song Nam, a director at the North’s ministry, may have been the official who met with Junichi Ihara, director general of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau of the Japanese Foreign Ministry, in Shanghai, according to a diplomatic source. (Kyodo, “N. Korea Fails to Present Abductees’ Info in Secret Talks in Late Jan.” February 12, 2015)


1/28/15:
The Russian presidential office said that North Korea’s leader will attend a war anniversary event in Moscow in May. The heads of state from about 20 nations confirmed their plans to join the ceremony to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II and North Korea’s leader is among them, according to the Kremlin. (Yonhap, “N. Korean Leader to Visit Russia in May: Kremlin,” January 28, 2015)

Nick Hansen: “Recent commercial satellite imagery indicates new activity at the 5 MWe Plutonium Production Reactor at North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center after an almost five-month hiatus in operations from late August until mid-December 2014. One possibility is that the North is in the early stages of an effort to restart the reactor. However, since the facility has been recently observed over a period of only a few weeks, it remains too soon to reach a definitive conclusion on this and also on whether that effort is moving forward or encountering problems. ….Imagery beginning December 24, 2014 through January 11, 2015 indicates new activity at the 5 MWe Reactor that may be related to a process of attempting to restart the plutonium production reactor after an almost five-month shutdown. On December 24: steam was observed coming from a probable pressure relief valve on a steam pipe just before it enters the turbine building; a small amount of melted water is running off the center of the turbine-building roof and snow has melted off the reactor roof over the southern heat exchanger. It also appears some hot water is draining into the river via the pipe from the turbine building, which indicates that some steam is being produced by the reactor, passed into that building, is cooled and the resulting water dumped into the river. The river is mostly frozen over with the exception of several pools where warmer water is present. The largest of these pools is where the hot water from the turbine building enters the river. Snow had melted where a new pipe joins the turbine waste steam and water drainpipe on the riverside near the perimeter road and fence. This could indicate that discharged steam is being diverted into the new pipeline identified in previous imagery, possibly to heat other buildings at the center. In imagery from January 1, 2015, a week later, little has changed although there are hints of additional activity. Two streams of melted water are seen on the turbine-building roof. Also, snow has now been melted off the reactor’s roof over the north heat exchanger. There appears to be steam coming from the pipe, which exits the reactor building from that exchanger. While it is not possible to tell how much water is being released into the river, the pools are still ice-free. …Despite previous predictions that Pyongyang would have begun operations of the experimental light water reactor (ELWR) already, the ELWR continues to remain dormant. One major change occurred in July 2014 when a flood destroyed an earthen dam constructed to ensure that the reactor’s cooling system had a reliable supply of water. As of early 2015 there has been no attempt to rebuild the dam or provide a new source of water.” (Nick Hansen, “North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Facility: Restart of the 5MWe Reactor?” 38North, January 28, 2015)

Hwang Joon-kook met with his U.S. and Japanese counterparts, Sung Kim and Junichi Ihara, in a trilateral meeting in Tokyo earlier in the day to discuss ways to resume the long-stalled six-party talks on North Korea’s denuclearization. “The U.S. and Japan expressed strong support for Seoul’s efforts to mend its ties with Pyongyang and to seek inter-Korean dialogue,” Hwang told a group of reporters in Tokyo, disclosing that his itinerary also includes bilateral meetings with his U.S. and Japanese counterparts. The trilateral meeting came amid growing concerns that there might be a gap between Seoul and Washington in dealing with North Korea. Hwang dismissed the view that Seoul and Washington are not on the same page, saying it is a misunderstanding to believe that Washington has shut its door for dialogue with the North. “The U.S. is seeking a two-track strategy of pressure and dialogue. Under this context, the U.S. is actively supportive of Seoul’s initiative,” he said. U.S. nuke envoy Kim reiterated that Washington will not rush back into any negotiation until the North shows its willingness to abandon nuclear weapons in a “concrete manner.” Kim told reporters in Tokyo, “We are not rushing back to negotiations because we want to make sure that there should be adequate preparation and adequate demonstration of commitment by North Korea toward denuclearization,” saying that the North has not shown such signs so far. (Yonhap, “U.S., Japan Back Seoul’s Efforts for Inter-Korean Talks: Envoy,” January 28, 2015)

Sung Kim: … “I want to thank Director General Ihara for organizing this trilateral meeting. It was very productive, as I’m sure you heard from Director General Ihara and Ambassador Hwang. It was a very timely opportunity to exchange views regarding recent developments with regard to North Korea. Not surprisingly, we stand united. The three countries are united in our common pursuit of the denuclearization of North Korea. We will continue our closest possible coordination going forward. We agreed that it is important for us to continue to enforce our sanctions in light of North Korea’s continued violation of international obligations and commitments. At the same time, we will energetically look for opportunities to return to credible negotiations towards denuclearization. In this regard, North Korea needs to demonstrate its commitment to denuclearization in a concrete manner before we can resume any serious negotiations. Thank you. Q. Ambassador, you are always talking about dialogue with the D.P.R.K. Today, did you discuss this issue? And have you reached an agreement about how you are going to resume the talks for the United States and DPRK or other countries? KIM: Well, we discussed various possibilities for engaging the North Koreans, including bilateral dialogue. And it’s not just U.S.-North Korea bilateral dialogue, but Japan’s ongoing efforts with the North Koreans regarding the abductee issue, about which we express very strong support. And of course South Korea’s efforts to initiate North-South dialogue. So I think there are various opportunities out there. What’s important is whether the North Koreans are ready to engage in serious and substantive dialogue on denuclearization. That is what all of us are looking for. Q: Ambassador, you just mentioned the implementation of sanctions, and the U.S. government announced its unilateral sanctions against North Korea just after the cyberattack on Sony Pictures. Will you expect Japan and South Korea to take similar sanctions against North Korea? KIM: Well, we continue to coordinate very closely on sanctions enforcement for Security Council resolution sanctions, as well as our unilateral sanctions. Japan and Korea already have a robust set of sanctions against North Korea in place. I think going forward, as we build on our efforts with regard to the new Executive Order signed by the President earlier this month, we will continue our close cooperation and coordination with our partners, including Japan and Korea. Q: Ambassador, is there any possibility that you will in the near future visit the DPRK? KIM: I can tell you that I have no plans to visit North Korea on this trip. Q: Is there any possibility? KIM: Well, I don’t want to hypothetically dismiss all possibilities, but it’s really not a question of whether we are willing to visit Pyongyang or not. It’s a question of whether the North Koreans are ready for a serious dialogue focused on denuclearization. And we just haven’t seen that sign yet. Q: Ambassador, what do you think of the role of China in terms of restarting the Six-Party discussions? KIM: We continue to believe that China has a very important role to play. They are the chair of the Six-Party Talks. They have strong historical ties with North Korea, and we do expect China will exercise its leadership and use its leverage on North Korea to persuade North Korea back to the path of denuclearization. Q: You just said that you want to see North Korea withdraw their nuclear reactors, and then the Six-Party Talks will resume. What kind of action do you want North Korea to take? They start to withdraw the nuclear reactor, or something, or you just have an agreement, and then the Six-Party Talks will resume? KIM: I don’t want to get into too much detail here, but I think there’s very strong consensus among not just the three parties — the U.S., Japan, and Korea — but among the five parties including China and Russia, that North Korea needs to demonstrate its commitment to denuclearization in a concrete manner before we can resume any serious negotiations. I think that would give us a much better chance to actually make lasting progress in denuclearization. Q: But how can you make sure that they won’t start it again, because it’s happened? KIM: I’m very well aware of the difficult past on this issue, and this is why we’re coordinating closely and moving very deliberately. We’re not rushing back into negotiations. We want to make sure there is adequate preparation and there is adequate demonstration of commitment by all parties — especially North Korea — to denuclearization, so that if and when we resume negotiations and the Six-Party Talks, we have a much better chance of making some real progress.” (DoS, Remarks, Special Representative for North Korea Policy Sung Kim, Tokyo, January 28, 2015)

North Korea secretly sought to arrange an inter-Korean summit in return for large-scale economic aid when he was in office, says former President Lee Myung-bak. In an extract of his forthcoming memoir released to the media, Lee claims that Pyongyang requested Seoul to arrange a summit through correspondence from its officials as well as through former Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. The memoir, titled “The President’s Time,” will be published on February 2. Lee wrote that all negotiations failed because he would not comply with demands from then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il that a summit take place on basis of preconditions being met. According to Lee, the North Korean leader proposed that the summit be arranged through a message delivered secretly in August 2009. Lee dispatched then Labor Minister Yim Tae-hee, a confidant of Lee, to Singapore in September 2009 to meet Kim Yang-gon and discuss related issues. Kim Yang-gon heads the United Front Department (UFD), which is Pyongyang’s main policymaker on inter-Korean issues.

Lee claims that Pyongyang demanded Seoul supply 400,000 tons of rice, 100,000 tons of corn, and 300,000 tons of fertilizer. He stated that the impoverished regime also asked for petroleum tar worth $100 million for road construction and $10 billion in cash to set up a state-run bank for economic development. According to Lee, then Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao hinted at Kim Jong-il’s desire for an inter-Korean summit in October 2009 during an ASEAN+3 meeting in Thailand. The ASEAN+3 meeting involved 10 ASEAN member countries plus South Korea, China and Japan. In November 2009, the repressive state reiterated its demand for economic aid during a meeting between working-level officials from the Ministry of Unification and their North Korean counterparts in Gaeseong, a border city in the North. Pyongyang adopted a slightly different tactic in July 2010 in the wake of the North’s sinking of the Cheonan according to Lee. The military regime asked for 500,000 tons of rice in return for accepting demands from the Lee government to make an apology for the deadly incident. In December 2010, Pyongyang secretly sent a four-member delegation to visit Seoul and “made noticeable progress” toward a summit, according to Lee. However, the delegates, including two high-ranking military officials, were executed for unknown reasons in 2011, Lee wrote, citing sources in Washington and Beijing. The negotiations continued in 2011 in both Beijing and New York but instead, the two Koreas clashed over the sinking of Cheonan, Lee stated. Former ambassador to China Kim Ha-joong wrote in his memoir that Kim Jong-il rejected U.S. offer to visit Washington in December 2000. (Whan-woo, “Former President Claims N.K. Sought ‘Cash-for-Summit,” Korea Times, January 29, 2015) In a telephone interview on February 2, a source familiar with North Korea who was deeply involved in these negotiations said, “North Korea told us they wanted to set up a financial institution similar to South Korea’s development bank [KDB], and they asked us to help them. But this was not a precondition for holding a summit.” “Since it would have been hard for us to help North Korea set up the bank without American help [given the great amount of capital required], the idea was that we would help North Korea raise funds internationally if the summit was held. If North Korea had kept making such absurd demands, discussion of the summit probably wouldn’t have continued through 2011,” the source said. During an interview with a monthly magazine in February of last year, former Labor Minister Yim Tae-hee, who took part in behind-the-scenes negotiations with North Korea in Singapore in October 2009, was asked about rumors floating around that Pyongyang had wanted compensation for a summit. “If North Korea had made that kind of request, President Lee would never have allowed the negotiations to go on. The fact is that Kim Yang-gon, Minister of North Korea‘s United Front Department, never made such a request,” Lee said, strongly denying such rumors. The claims made by Kim and in Lee’s memoirs are based on ignorance about North Korea’s negotiation strategy, some experts say. “North Korea’s strategy is to make the most extreme demands during the early phase of defining the agenda for the talks and then back off later. But South Korea tends to make more reasonable demands up front because of public pressure to achieve its goals,” said one government official who was frequently involved with negotiations with North Korea. The very fact that the Lee administration took the extreme demands that North Korea made initially at face value illustrates the administration‘s faulty understanding of the North. In addition, the other forms of aid requested by North Korea — 100,000 tons of corn, 400,000 tons of rice, 300,000 tons of fertilizer, and so on — were to be received in exchange for granting South Korean requests such as allowing South Korean abductees and prisoners of war to visit South Korea, the source familiar with North Korea emphasized. Consequently, these experts say, North Korea’s demands were not so much a precondition for the summit meeting as they were part of the process of hammering out the agenda items for that meeting. In addition, the memoirs do not mention the weaknesses of the Lee administration’s intelligence assets in North Korea. Until corrected by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, the Lee administration mistakenly assumed that it was not Kim Jong-il, but Kim Jong-un, who was visiting China in May 2011. And when Kim Jong-il died in December of the same year, the Lee administration was completely in the dark about it for 51 hours and 30 minutes. In short, figures from the Lee administration are focusing solely on North Korea’s excessive demands while concealing their own failures. (Yi Yong-in, “Experts Say Lee MB’s Memoir Claims ZAre of Questionable Accuracy,” Hankyore, February 3, 2015)


1/29/15:
South Korea said on Jan. 28 it will resume a program to support North Korean medical doctors’ training in Germany. The move, the first of its kind in seven years, is in line with the Park Geun-hye administration’s push for expanding humanitarian aid for the impoverished neighbor. The unification ministry plans to provide a North Korea-Germany group with 90 million won (US$83,000) from the inter-Korean cooperation fund. It will be delivered through the (South) Korea Foundation for International Healthcare. In 2001, the North Korea-Germany Medical Association launched a project to help train the communist nation’s doctors. A number of North Korean doctors were invited to Germany to learn the latest medical techniques for several months at local hospitals. South Korea offered funds for the program in 2007 and 2008, but cut the assistance amid worsened relations with Pyongyang. (Yonhap, “S. Korea to Support N. Korean Doctors’ Training in Germany,” January 29, 2015)


1/30/15:
Sung Kim: “Q: Ambassador, there was a media report that the U.S. side offered a bilateral with North Korea in Beijing shortly before your trip here. Can you confirm and comment? KIM: We have made it very clear publicly that we are open to engagement, substantive dialogue with North Korea about the issue of denuclearization. I don’t want to get into details of diplomatic communication, but North Koreans were aware that I would be in the region and I think they understood that this would be an opportunity for substantive dialogue on the nuclear issue. But unfortunately, we are not having a meeting on this trip.” (DoS, Remarks, Special Representative for North Korea Policy Sung Kim, Beijing, January 30, 2015)


1/31/15:
KCNA: “It has been disclosed recently by U.S. media that the U.S. has snooped on the computer system and other communication facilities in the DPRK. According to the report based on a top secret document of the U.S. National Security Agency and testimonies made by former government officials of the U.S., it has run the whole gamut of base espionage acts such as gathering information about nuclear development in the DPRK through its cyberattacks for several years. Snowden, former agent of the CIA, at an interview with German media, disclosed that U.S. agents had illegal access to the computer network of the DPRK a few years ago and have regularly monitored it after setting up the hacking and tracking program CNE they obtained by hacking at the south Korean computer network. This is clear evidence revealing once again the true colors of the U.S. as a cursed empire of hackers. Whenever an opportunity presents itself, the U.S. made much fuss over heavy loss it suffered due to cyberattacks by other countries. For example, the U.S. kicked off a racket for slapping “additional sanctions” against the DPRK after deliberately linking the cyberattack on the Sony Pictures Entertainment to the latter. The U.S. advanced the theory on cyber warfare in the 1990s. Since then, it has organized lots of cyber warfare units, beefing up and developing them. It has stepped up preparations for a cyberwar, steadily increasing military expenditure for it under the pretext of “protecting national interests.” It set up the cyber command in May, 2010. In October, 2012 Obama issued a secret presidential order regarding U.S. policy on cyber warfare operations, which was meant to enable the U.S. army to mount a sudden preemptive cyberattack upon any country by mobilizing all means. Pursuant to the scenario, the U.S. Department of Defense is developing new type cyber weapons capable of jamming and disabling the military systems of other countries even under the conditions that the systems are not connected with the Internet if necessary. At a secret presidential order, the U.S. agents mounted a cyberattack code-named “Olympic Games” upon a nuclear facility of Iran and seized the design for its interior operation. They secretly input the malignant virus “Stuxnet” to the inner network system of the Iranian nuclear facility, causing delay in its nuclear activities for peaceful purposes. Such criminal acts of the U.S. are being openly perpetrated against not only those countries opposed to it but also its allies. The U.S. has further intensified hacking and espionage operations in various parts of the world. This is aimed to gather data necessary for realizing its wild ambition for dominating the world as well as improve and test the methods and means to be used for the future cyber wars. It is a serious challenge to the international community aspiring after world peace and stability that the U.S. is abusing the latest sci-tech successes for making a weapon for dominating the world.The U.S. is, indeed, a country of war maniacs running riot to realize their wild ambition for hegemony by infringing upon the sovereignty of other countries and even violating and stamping out human civilization. It is also a chieftain of aggression and intervention and a plot-breeding base. It is by no means fortuitous that the world public is censuring the U.S. acts of harassing the security of the cyber space. It would be well advised to stop running riot, well aware that successes made in the latest information technology are by no means its monopoly.” (KCNA, “KCNA Commentary Accuses U.S. of Hacking at DPRK’s Computer System,” January 31, 2015)


2/1/15:
DPRK FoMin spokesman: “as regards the fact that the U.S. is working hard to shift the blame for the failure to hold dialogue with the DPRK onto the latter: Kim Song, special representative for north Korea policy of the U.S. Department of State, in an interview during his tour of China on Jan. 30 let loose a spate of outbursts that the U.S. always keeps the door of dialogue for engagement and denuclearization open. This is a foolish attempt of the U.S. to fan up an atmosphere of sanctions and pressure on the DPRK through “international cooperation” by shifting the blame for the failure to hold dialogue and negotiations for the settlement of the issue of the Korean peninsula onto the DPRK. As well known to the world, entering the new year, the DPRK made bold and flexible proposals to defuse the danger of war, ease tension and create a peaceful climate on the Korean peninsula and is making every possible sincere effort to put them into practice. It clarified its stand that it is ready to take responding steps for putting a moratorium on nuclear test, a concern of the U.S., in case the latter temporarily halts joint military exercises in south Korea and its vicinity. It, at the same time, clarified that it is ready to sit at a negotiating table with the U.S. any time. It also invited [Sung Kim] to visit Pyongyang as he expressed his willingness to meet with his counterpart of the DPRK during his visit to Asia this time. However, the U.S., in disregard of this, is working hard to shift the blame onto the DPRK, misleading public opinion by creating impression that dialogue and contacts are not realized due to the latter’s insincere attitude. While talking about dialogue, Kim insisted on the stance that the DPRK should first take its sincere attitude toward denuclearization if dialogue is to start. This means, in essence, refusing dialogue as it is aimed to disarm the dialogue partner, first of all. Even the U.S. president openly said that it would bring down the social system in the DPRK. It is preposterous and a height of American-style shamelessness and hypocrisy to claim that the U.S. keeps the door of dialogue with the DPRK open. The DPRK feels no need to sit at a negotiating table with the party totally denying the ideology and social system chosen by the Korean people and desperately working to bring down them. The DPRK will resolutely counter the U.S. as long as it refuses to make its Korea policy switch and seeks “collapse of system” in the DPRK.” (KCNA, “DPRK Foreign Ministry Spokesman Refutes Senior U.S. Diplomat’s Remarks on Dialogue with DPRK,” February 1, 2015)


2/2/15:
The United States and North Korea have been actively discussing the possibility of returning to denuclearization talks, raising the prospect of a new round of diplomacy even as Washington takes a tougher line against Pyongyang. The countries’ nuclear envoys have been discussing the idea of “talks about talks,” according to multiple people with knowledge of the conversations. But they have not been able to agree on the logistics — in no small part because of North Korea’s continuing Ebola quarantine. “We want to test if they have an interest in resuming negotiations,” a senior U.S. administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “I think we’ve made it very clear that we would like to see them take some steps first.” Those steps would include suspending work at North Korea’s nuclear facilities and pledging not to conduct any further nuclear tests, he said. After years of broken North Korean promises, American negotiators are wary about taking Pyongyang at its word. But North Korea reacted angrily yesterday to the suggestion that it, not Washington, was the hurdle to resuming talks. When North Korea said it was willing to suspend nuclear tests if the United States and South Korea canceled annual military drills, the State Department turned down the offer, calling it “an implicit threat.” The immediate response surprised proponents of engagement, who say the offer, although unacceptable, represented an opening from North Korea that should have been considered. But behind the scenes, former and current officials have been discussing the idea of holding talks about how to resume the six-party negotiations aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Last month, a group of former American officials — including Stephen Bosworth and Joseph DeTrani, both of whom have a long history of dealing with North Korea — met in Singapore with Ri Yong Ho, North Korea’s vice foreign minister and lead nuclear negotiator. The meeting was designed to check “the lay of the land,” according to one person familiar with the talks. Multiple Americans with knowledge of the various discussions spoke about them on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. The Singapore meeting resulted in the suggestion that Sung Kim, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea policy, meet with a North Korean counterpart. He was in Asia last week for meetings with Japanese, South Korean and Chinese officials, and he is understood to have raised the prospect of holding a meeting with the North Koreans in Beijing. North Korea offered to send Ri to Beijing or suggested that Sung Kim meet in Pyongyang with Kim Kye Gwan and Kang Sok Ju, both more senior in the Foreign Ministry than Ri. U.S. officials thought Kim’s and Kang’s ranks were better matched with Sung Kim’s position but did not like the “optics” of the American envoy traveling to Pyongyang, because it would have made the North Koreans look as though they were in the stronger position, according to the people close to the discussions. Another big hurdle: North Korea still has strict quarantine rules in place following last year’s Ebola outbreak in West Africa. All people who have traveled outside the country — including, apparently, Ri, after his return from Singapore — are required to stay at home for 21 days. The few foreign arrivals have similarly been quarantined in Pyongyang; their only contact with the world outside their apartments is when a state-appointed doctor comes each day to check their temperatures, said foreigners living in the North Korean capital who have been subjected to the rules. This practice is continuing, even as the Ebola crisis subsides. But the bigger problem is the crevasse between the countries’ starting positions. “We have made it very clear publicly that we are open to engagement, substantive dialogue with North Korea about the issue of denuclearization,” Sung Kim said after his meetings in Beijing on Friday. The United States’ fundamental position is still that “we’re willing to deal with the government that’s in power in North Korea if they will work with us sincerely towards credible negotiations on the nuclear issue,” he said. North Korea responded angrily yesterday. In rejecting its invitation to host Sung Kim in Pyongyang, the United States was instead “working hard to shift the blame onto [North Korea], misleading public opinion by creating [the] impression that dialogue and contacts are not realized due to the latter’s insincere attitude,” an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement carried byKCNA. David Straub, a former U.S. negotiator with North Korea, said the North Koreans “want to give the impression that it’s the Americans who are being unreasonable right now.” But both sides have wanted to talk to each other for decades, he said. “The issue is not whether they want to talk but on what terms? What do they want to achieve?” Straub said. “The North Koreans have made it clear publicly and privately that they are a nuclear weapons state and that they intend to be a nuclear weapons state forever.” Scott Snyder, a Korea expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said getting back to talks is just the first test. “The challenge of pursuing talks is how to resume them without accepting North Korea’s nuclear status, while simultaneously keeping up the pressure,” he said. “In the past, renewed dialogue has been accompanied by relaxation of pressure, especially from Beijing.” (Anna Fifield, “U.S. and North Korea Have Been Secretly Discussing Having ‘Talks about Talks,’” Washington Post, February 2, 2015)


2/3/15:
North Korea and Russia are planning to conduct a joint military drill and boost their improving bilateral relations. “We are planning an expansion of the communication lines of our military central command,” said Valery Gerasimov, the chief of staff of the Russian armed forces. “We are entering preliminary negotiations with the armed forces of Brazil, Vietnam, Cuba and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. We are going to conduct a series of joint naval and air force exercises, as well as joint drills of our ground troops and air assault troops.” (Vasudevan Sridharan, “North Korea and Russia Planning to Conduct Joint Military Drill,” International Business Times, February 3, 2015)

A campaign within the United Nations to haul North Korean leader Kim Jong-un before an international court for crimes against humanity has touched off a defensive fury in Pyongyang, where it’s being treated like a diplomatic declaration of war — an aggressive act aimed not only at shutting down prison camps but also at removing Kim and dismantling his family’s three-generation cult of personality. Actually, according to the U.N.’s point man on human rights in North Korea, that is not too far off the mark, though he stressed no one is advocating a military option to force regime change. “It would be, I think, the first order of the day to get these 80,000 to 100,000 [prisoners] immediately released and these camps disbanded,” Marzuki Darusman, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But that can only happen if this cult leadership system is completely dismantled. And the only way to do that is if the Kim family is effectively displaced, is effectively removed from the scene, and a new leadership comes into place.” (Associated Press, “U.N. Official Says North Korean Regime Must Be ‘Dismantled’ for Human Rights to Thrive,” February 3, 2015)


2/4/15:
NDC statement: “ — Obama announced new “additional sanctions” on the DPRK through a “presidential executive order” at the outset of the year and slandered it as “the most isolated, severed and cruel dictatorial state” on January 22. Not content with it, he cried out for bringing down the DPRK at an earlier date through information inflow by cyber warfare, saying such regime would collapse with passage of time. Meanwhile, politicians and military bosses of the U.S. have vied with each other in calling for tightened siege and blockade against the DPRK through re-listing of sponsor of terrorism and “high-profile additional sanctions.” Typical of this is that the U.S. decided to stage war drills it planned in south Korea and its vicinity, including the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle joint military exercises under the pretext of “keeping alliance system,” held a secrete confab to disable the nukes and missiles of the DPRK at the command of the special operation force in Florida State, and then formed even the U.S.-south Korea joint division to put it into practice. In this regard the National Defense Commission of the DPRK in a statement on February 4 clarified the following principled stand of its army and people: 1. Now that the brigandish U.S. imperialists’ hostile policy toward the DPRK is getting extremely ferocious, the army and people of the DPRK will take stronger counteraction of justice to shatter it. Once the U.S. policy makers were so impudent that they had no hostile policy toward the DPRK. But, Obama revealed himself that the U.S. hostile policy toward the DPRK is the harshest hostile policy and it is chiefly aimed to “bring down” the DPRK. As long as the U.S. imperialists’ hostile policy towards the DPRK is getting evermore ferocious at an extreme phase, its army and people will indefinitely ratchet up its retaliatory action of justice to counter the mounting mud-slinging of the Obama group at them, its escalating harsh sanctions and pressure and the ever-expanding scale and scope of war drills against it. The U.S. should clearly know it is long since the words that the U.S. imperialists are the sworn enemy became phraseology commonly used by all people and the whole army of the DPRK and the resolution to take revenge upon the U.S. under the slogan “Let’s wipe out and annihilate the enemy and give death to him!” shaking this land is now growing so strong that they are ready to dash ahead like the wind towards the center of the U.S., the cesspool of crimes. 2. Now that the gangster-like U.S. imperialists’ military strategy towards the DPRK is inching close to the stage of igniting a war of aggression, the just counteraction of the army and people of the DPRK will be focused on inflicting the bitterest disasters upon the United States of America. By origin, the U.S. imperialists are a group of gangsters accustomed to making profound confusing of right and wrong and unleashing a war on the basis of plots and lies. It was none other than the U.S. which escalated the Vietnam war of aggression by faking up the Gulf of Tonkin incident and occupied Iraq by orchestrating a farce called “operation to eliminate weapons of mass destruction”. It was again the U.S. which ignited the Korean war under the pretext of “southward invasion” in the 1950s. Today the Obama group is going so foolish as to try to “bring down” the DPRK through a cyberwarfare by fabricating the non-existent “human rights issue” of the DPRK and floating the fiction about its “cyberattack” on the Sony Pictures Entertainment. Under this dangerous situation the army and people of the DPRK have decided to write the last page of the U.S. history of shameful defeat about its final ruin exactly on the U.S. land by dint of Paektusan arms. If the U.S. ignites a war of aggression against the DPRK by conventional forces, the latter will fight the former by conventional forces of its style, if the former unleashes a nuclear war against the latter, it will counter through its own nuclear strikes, and if the former tries to bring down the latter through a cyberwarfare, it will react with its own preeminent cyber warfare and will thus bring earlier the final ruin of the U.S. This is a decisive option of the DPRK. The U.S. had better clearly know that the DPRK’s smaller, precision and diversified nuclear striking means and ground, naval, underwater, air and cyberwarfare means will be used through the service personnel and people’s display of the strongest mental power and indomitable ideology and will which the gangster-like U.S. imperialists can never think of and by the Juche-oriented strategy and tactics and unique war methods unprecedented in human history of wars. 3. It is the decision of the army and people of the DPRK to have no longer need or willingness to sit at negotiating table with the U.S. since the latter seeks to stamp out the ideology of the former and “bring down” its social system. The Obama group is so impudent as to claim repeatedly that the DPRK should be led to changes and “collapse” of social system through “two-way strategy” — “pressure” and “dialogue” by force. Since the gangster-like U.S. imperialists are blaring that they will “bring down” the DPRK, oblivious of its poor plight facing adverse fate, the army and people of the DPRK cannot but officially notify the Obama administration of the USA that the DPRK has neither need nor willingness to sit at negotiating table with the U.S. any longer. The U.S. should no longer talk under the eyes of the world such nonsense that dialogue will be impossible before “change.” The tradition of eternal victory for the DPRK and disgrace and defeat for the U.S. imperialists, recorded in the past history of showdown between the DPRK and the U.S., will be carried forward forever. Running high are the extraordinary spirit and readiness of the army and people of the DPRK to turn out in the toughest battle to settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists. The U.S. imperialists, engrossed in the hostile policy toward the DPRK century after century, should be mindful that the time of nightmare is coming nearer when they will meet the most disastrous, final doom on the U.S. mainland.” (KCNA. “U.S. Imperialists Will Face Final Doom: NDC,” February 4, 2015)

CPRK spokesman: “as regards the fact that the south Korean authorities are spreading the rumor that dialogue has not started due to the north, toeing the line of the U.S. which is displeased with any effort to mend the inter-Korean relations: …These days those of the Ministry of Unification of south Korea talk rubbish that the north should stop making exhausting assertions and come out for dialogue as early as possible if it has the willingness to mend the relations. Timed to coincide with this, the conservative media of south Korea are floating the rumor that it is hard to expect north-south dialogue for the time being due to the north. This is an intolerable insult to the DPRK’s sincere efforts to bring about a great change in the north-south relations in this significant year and revelation of the clumsy and sinister intention to pass the buck for the daily escalating tension to it. Now the rabid dogs of the U.S. obsessed with the anti-DPRK hostile conception are openly barking that they will bring down the DPRK by leading it to “changes” in utter denial of its ideology and social system, and obstructing the south Korean authorities in every way so that they may not opt for mending the relations with it. This is well known to the world. There are heaps of realistic issues pending solutions between the north and the south but there is not a single problem the south Korean authorities can settle without the U.S. interference. This is the DPRK’s judgment. It is the stark reality that without setting right the abnormal master-servant relations with the U.S. it is hard to expect a fundamental change in the north-south relations. The DPRK can never believe the south Korean authorities’ will for dialogue as long as such situation goes on. The south Korean authorities should not just pay lip-service to “dialogue” and “confidence” but make a bold decision to settle national issues and reunification issue with their fellow countrymen through frank discussions, free from the U.S. control, and show the will for the improvement of the relations by taking practical and trust-based measures. They should also stop such acts of doing harm to fellow countrymen and escalating tensions by toeing to the U.S. policy. To talk about “dialogue” without taking practical measures is not an attitude to truly settle the issue of the north-south relations. Such behavior cannot be interpreted otherwise than a poor charade to make the public at home and abroad believe that they are interested in improving the north-south ties and to shift the blame for the failure to open dialogue on to the DPRK side. As we have repeatedly clarified our stand, we are fully ready to bring about a fresh landmark phase in the north-south relations for the dignity and destiny of the nation. The prospect of the north-south relations entirely depends on the attitude of the south Korean authorities.” (KCNA, “S. Korean Authorities Urged to Take Practical Measures for Dialogue,” February 4, 2015)

DPRK FoMin spokesman “as regards the fact that the “special rapporteur” on human rights issue in the DPRK recently slung mud at the dignity of its supreme leadership: Darusman, called “special rapporteur” on human rights issue in the DPRK of the UN Human Rights Council, in an interview with AP on Feb. 2 called for “change of leadership” in the DPRK, saying that “human rights and the present government cannot coexist in north Korea.” His reckless remarks were just an imitation of calumnies on the DPRK of the U.S. ruling quarters obsessed with the inveterate repugnancy towards it, and this fully revealed his true colors as a dirty stooge under the veil of human rights champion who acts a shock brigade in implementing the U.S. hostile policy toward the DPRK. It is no wonder that AP expressed astonishment at the remarks, saying that they could be heard only from U.S. officials. Darusman threw mud at the dignity of the DPRK supreme leadership absolutely trusted by its army and people. It is as foolish an act as trying to get the sun eclipsed by palms, and such impudent behavior deserves the punishment of Heaven. In fact, he is implicated in the case of the massacre of 500 000 people linked to the leftist or labor groups in Indonesia in 1965 committed with CIA help. He is also a dirty man who is a member of the Global Leadership Foundation, whose patrons include U.S. unsavory characters. Such guy, turned into a disgusting imposter and hack writer for money from the U.S., now goes recklessly to take the lead in the anti-DPRK “human rights” campaign. Darusman, a hand-raised stooge of the U.S., recruited “testifiers” like Sin Tong Hyok and took them from place to place to tell the false stories according to the U.S. scenario, so as to cook up an anti-DPRK “human rights resolution”, befooling the international community. Upset by Sin’s confession of his false “testimonies”, Darusman is seeking to justify the false document, cooked up by himself, with sophism that it was based on “testimonies” of hundreds of people. To make it clearer, he should open to the public the names of hundreds of “defectors” from the DPRK whom he asserted he met. Then, the DPRK will reveal to the whole world the true identities of each and every one of those false “testifiers” and the crimes committed by them one by one. Consequently, the truth behind the anti-DPRK “human rights” racket by Darusman and his master, the U.S., will be brought to light more evidently. The DPRK does never pardon anyone for hurting the dignity of its supreme leadership, and it is its unchangeable temper and will to defend the best socialist system of Korean style. The DPRK will continue to toughly counter the mad-cap anti-DPRK “human rights” racket the U.S. and other hostile forces kicked up by employing such dishonest elements as Darusman.” (KCNA, “DPRK Foreign Ministry Spokesman Blasts Remarks of ‘Special Rapporteur’ of UN Human Rights Council,” February 4, 2015)

The U.S. says North Korea has not yet shown it is serious about restarting negotiations over its nuclear weapons program. But top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, Daniel Russel, says he has not given up hope, and is monitoring statements by Pyongyang. Russel said the North’s recent offer of a nuclear test moratorium if annual U.S.-South Korea military exercises are canceled was a non-starter. He told reporters, “North Korea does not have the right to bargain, to trade or ask for a pay-off in return for abiding by international law.” (Associated Press, “U.S.: No Sign Yet N. Korea Serious on Nuke Talks,” February 4, 2015) North Korea should learn from Myanmar’s opening and change course, a senior American diplomat said Wednesday, stressing Pyongyang can implement reforms without “regime change” as seen in the Southeast Asian nation. “The transformation in the (Myanmar) economy, the transformation in the lives of Burmese people, the opportunities that have opened and the scope of international cooperation has not come at the cost of a revolution,” Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel said at a Foreign Press Center briefing. “A change in North Korea does not mean to be regime change as the example of Burma shows,” he said. Reforms in Myanmar have led to the “pouring-in of significant development economic support.” Russel stressed the U.S. is willing to hold talks with Pyongyang, but what’s more important than simply holding talks is to hold serious negotiations aimed at ending the country’s nuclear program, and for such negotiations to reopen, Pyongyang should first demonstrate its denuclearization commitments. “We are open to dialogue. We have no problem talking to North Korea. We talk to North Korea. What we want, however, are negotiations to implement the agreements reached to fulfill the mandate of the U.N. Security Council resolutions to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula,” he said. “We are always alert to and seeking indicators of seriousness of purpose on North Korea’s part that it is prepared to negotiate, that it’s prepared to come to the negotiating table, ready to take the concrete steps, take the reversible steps that will be necessary to freeze, roll back and eliminate ultimately the nuclear program and missile program,” he said. The senior diplomat also dismissed as a “nonstarter” Pyongyang’s recent offer to suspend nuclear tests in exchange for a halt to joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea, saying the North has no right to “bargain, to trade or to ask for a payoff in return for abiding by international law.” “That’s not how it works. The issue is this. Will North Korea agree to negotiate denuclearization in the six-party context and … how will we know that there is a sufficient prospect of making progress toward denuclearization to warrant restarting that entire effort,” he said. (Chang Jae-soon, “Change in N. Korea Does Not Mean Regime Change: Senior U.S. Diplomat,” Yonhap, February 5, 2015)

China’s defense minister expressed concern over a possible deployment of the United States’ advanced missile-defense system in South Korea, Seoul’s defense ministry said. “Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan expressed concern over the possible THAAD deployment on the Korean Peninsula,” defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters, without further elaboration. Chang made the remark to his South Korean counterpart Han Min-koo during a two-hour defense ministers’ meeting in Seoul. “In response, Minister Han reaffirmed Seoul’s stance that Washington has not made any decision on the matter and has not asked South Korea (for any consultation). No agreement between Seoul and Washington exists on the issue,” Kim noted, adding that the missile-defense system “aims to solely deter and counter missiles from North Korea.” It is the first time that a ranking Chinese official has raised the THAAD issue to South Korea publicly. (Oh Seok-min, “China Voices Concern over U.S. THAAD on Korean Soil,” Yonhap, February 4, 2015) Han and Chang agreed to follow-up measures to establish a hotline between the two countries’ defense ministries. The channel, if completed, will be Seoul’s third Defense Ministry hotline, following ones with the United States and Japan. “Low-level talks will start next week for the hotline project,” said a South Korean official. “We want to open the channel before the end of this year.” Chang is the third Chinese defense minister to visit South Korea. The last such visit was made in 2006. The two countries had their last defense ministerial talks in Beijing in 2011. Following the defense ministerial talks, Chang visited the Blue House and met with President Park. (Ser Myo-ja, “China’s Defense Chief Raise THAAD,” JoongAng Ilbo, February 5, 2015)

The nominee for the next U.S. secretary of defense vowed to use the “full range of capabilities” to defend against North Korean ballistic missiles, saying they could pose a “direct threat” to the country. Ashton Carter made the pledge in a written answer submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearing, saying he would deploy more ground-based missile interceptors in California and Alaska, regions that could fall within the North’s missile ranges. Carter also said the North’s intercontinental ballistic missile threat is “very real.” “North Korea’s ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction capabilities clearly present a serious and direct threat to U.S. forces postured in the Asia-Pacific region as well as to our regional allies and partners,” Carter said. “These capabilities, although untested at longer ranges, could also pose a direct threat to the United States … If confirmed, I will ensure that we draw upon the full range of our capabilities to protect against, and to respond to, these threats,” he said. North Korea’s history of proliferation activities amplifies the dangers of its asymmetric programs, he said. In addition to deploying more missile interceptors, Carter also said he would enhance the Pentagon’s ability to highlight and disrupt the illicit proliferation networks that North Korea uses and promote cooperation with partners to interdict shipments of proliferation concern. “With respect to ballistic missiles that could threaten the United States, I think that’s one of the reasons why we need to keep our missile defenses and especially our ICBM defenses current, capable and large enough in size to deal with both the prospective Iranian threat and the also very real North Korean ICBM threat,” he said during the hearing. North Korea’s missile program has long been a key security concern in the region and beyond. He added the limited information on the North, leader Kim Jong-un and the regime’s motivations “add to my concern.” “Despite the recent signals from both North and South Korea about openness to inter-Korean engagement, the U.S. should remain vigilant against the strong possibility that North Korea will use brinkmanship and provocations to try to coerce the United States and its allies and partners back into negotiations on its own terms,” he said. He rejected the North’s recent offer to suspend nuclear tests if the U.S. and South Korea halt joint military exercises, saying the annual drills are “routine, transparent, and defensive exercises that are meant to strengthen military readiness and alliance preparedness.” “There is no equivalence between conducting these exercises and North Korean nuclear tests, which are violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions,” he said. Carter said the North’s hack on Sony is “serious and deserving of a response” but that he does not believe it rises to the level of an “act of war.” (Yonhap, “Carter Vows to Use ‘Full Range of Capabilities’ to Defend against N.K. Missiles,” Korea Times, February 5, 2015)

King: “The DPRK has not requested humanitarian aid from the United States since 2011, and we do not have any plans to provide such assistance. But the need for food, medical, technical, and educational aid is still urgent in North Korea. This is why people and NGOs like the ones that are here today are so important. They are able to engage with North Korea under different circumstances. Whereas North Korea has set up road blocks to government-to-government engagement, it has demonstrated a willingness to work directly with NGOs. NGOs are able to do things the United States cannot do. This is why we admire and encourage their efforts to provide much needed aid to the people of North Korea. To the extent that we can be helpful, we seek to support NGO efforts. The United States has long made clear to North Korea that we are open to improved relations if it is willing to take concrete actions to live up to its international obligations and commitments. We remain gravely concerned about the ongoing systematic and widespread human rights violations in the DPRK and about the well-being of the North Korean people, who bear the brunt of their government’s decision to perpetuate its self-impoverishing policies. These policies deny the people of the North human and civil rights and the quality of life which they could and should have. Addressing these human rights abuses in North Korea remains an essential component of U.S. policy. We believe direct people-to-people contact, which occurs through the provision of humanitarian aid, such as that provided by private organizations, can have a positive long term impact on advancing change in the country. As such, we support efforts to provide humanitarian aid to the people of North Korea. And we call on North Korea to honor its international obligations and agreements and to allow the international humanitarian assistance groups and independent monitors unfettered access to all areas of the country to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches its intended recipients.” (Robert R. King, Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues, “Getting Beyond Politics: Creating Lasting Impact in North Korea,” SAIS, Washington, February 4, 2015)


2/5/15:
The U.S. says North Korea has not yet shown it is serious about restarting negotiations over its nuclear weapons program. But top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, Daniel Russel, says he has not given up hope, and is monitoring statements by Pyongyang. Russel said the North’s recent offer of a nuclear test moratorium if annual U.S.-South Korea military exercises are canceled was a non-starter. He told reporters, “North Korea does not have the right to bargain, to trade or ask for a pay-off in return for abiding by international law.” (Associated Press, “U.S.: No Sign Yet N. Korea Serious on Nuke Talks,” February 4, 2015) North Korea should learn from Myanmar’s opening and change course, a senior American diplomat said Wednesday, stressing Pyongyang can implement reforms without “regime change” as seen in the Southeast Asian nation. “The transformation in the (Myanmar) economy, the transformation in the lives of Burmese people, the opportunities that have opened and the scope of international cooperation has not come at the cost of a revolution,” Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel said at a Foreign Press Center briefing. “A change in North Korea does not mean to be regime change as the example of Burma shows,” he said. Reforms in Myanmar have led to the “pouring-in of significant development economic support.” Russel stressed the U.S. is willing to hold talks with Pyongyang, but what’s more important than simply holding talks is to hold serious negotiations aimed at ending the country’s nuclear program, and for such negotiations to reopen, Pyongyang should first demonstrate its denuclearization commitments. “We are open to dialogue. We have no problem talking to North Korea. We talk to North Korea. What we want, however, are negotiations to implement the agreements reached to fulfill the mandate of the U.N. Security Council resolutions to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula,” he said. “We are always alert to and seeking indicators of seriousness of purpose on North Korea’s part that it is prepared to negotiate, that it’s prepared to come to the negotiating table, ready to take the concrete steps, take the reversible steps that will be necessary to freeze, roll back and eliminate ultimately the nuclear program and missile program,” he said. The senior diplomat also dismissed as a “nonstarter” Pyongyang’s recent offer to suspend nuclear tests in exchange for a halt to joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea “because North Korea has no right to bargain, to trade or to ask for a payoff in return for abiding by international law.” “That’s not how it works. The issue is this. Will North Korea agree to negotiate denuclearization in the six-party context and … how will we know that there is a sufficient prospect of making progress toward denuclearization to warrant restarting that entire effort,” he said. (Chang Jae-soon, “Change in N. Korea Does Not Mean Regime Change: Senior U.S. Diplomat,” Yonhap, February 5, 2015)

Jeffrey Lewis: “On December 20, 2014, the South Korean Ministry of National Defense (MND) released a white paper that contained a surprising statement about North Korea’s nuclear program. “North Korea seems to have made significant progress in miniaturizing its nuclear weapons.” The MND Minister had made a similar statement in October, but for some reason, this time his statement sparked a flurry of stories in South Korean press, such as the Chosun Ilbo and JoongAng Ilbo, as well as in US publications like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. This chatter forced the South Korean government to clarify the statement. “Seoul and Washington have reached consensus that the North already reached a significant level of technology to miniaturize nuclear weapons through three nuclear tests,” an MND official told the Chosun Ilbo. “But there is no intelligence report that the North has already succeeded in miniaturizing nuclear weapons.” Well that clears it up. This is now the third time something like this has happened in the past few years—a statement that North Korea has developed a nuclear weapon small enough to arm a ballistic missile of one sort or another, followed by oddly parsed statements suggesting that maybe they haven’t. In Spring 2013, for example, a US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) threat assessment was mistakenly marked unclassified stating that North Korea might be able to arm ballistic missiles with nuclear weapons, prompting the Department of Defense and Director of National Intelligence to release clarifications of their own. And, in October of that year, the Commander of US Forces Korea stated his personal opinion that North Korea probably could do so, prompting a statement by the ROK Minister of National Defense. At some level, this debate strikes me as a bit bizarre. The North Koreans have conducted three nuclear weapons tests since 2006, including one they openly declared to have been of a “miniaturized” device; they have also created a Strategic Rocket Force and published a picture of a map showing their nuclear targeting plan against the United States. I realize that North Korean propaganda is often balderdash, but the idea that North Korea might be developing nuclear-armed ballistic missiles isn’t really in the same category as claims that Kim Jong-un doesn’t poop. Whether North Korea can arm a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead, particularly a ballistic missile that can reach the United States, depends on the answer to three questions: Can North Korea make a nuclear weapon small enough? Can North Korea’s compact nuclear weapon survive the shock, vibration and temperature change associated with ballistic missile flight? Can North Korea construct a “reentry vehicle” that can survive the extreme heat of reentry, a problem that gets worse with range? I think the answer to each of these questions is, “yeah, probably.” While I understand the caution in crediting the North Koreans for capabilities that are only under development, there is ample open source information to support such a judgment. Reasonable people may still disagree, but no one should be surprised by the prospect of nuclear-armed North Korean missiles. The simplest question is whether North Korea can build a nuclear weapon small enough—both in terms of mass and compactness—to fit atop a ballistic missile. The United States intelligence community has a term of art—simple fission device—to describe first generation nuclear weapons, like the aptly named “Fat Man,” that are much too large to place on a ballistic missile. As a general technical matter, however, the US intelligence community has always stated that a country could skip right toward building much smaller devices on the order of 1,000 kg—although such weapons would be unreliable without nuclear testing. This device would look something like the US Mark 7, which weighed about 750 kg. Some of my colleagues have pointed out that North Korea could probably do much better, trying out something like the Mark 12 which weighted on 450 kg. Not surprisingly, as early as 1999, DIA was arguing that North Korea might try to build a 650-750 kg device, even if others in the US intelligence community were skeptical. DIA just assumed that North Korea would go straight to a Mark 7-like design. There is plenty of reason to think that North Korea tried to do precisely that. During the 2000s, there were many reports of North Korean conducting extensive testing of high explosives. A nuclear weapon is mostly a conventional explosive. Making the bomb more compact largely involves design innovations that require fewer explosives to achieve a given level of compression (such as levitated pits and better electronics). One explanation for all the testing of conventional explosives is that North Korea was trying to develop a device small enough to be delivered by missile. In 2005, a North Korean defector stated that North Korea had done precisely that, build a 1,000 kilogram device that was—just as the US intelligence community would have predicted—not reliable. (The defector also said the next device would be smaller.) When North Korea’s first test in 2006 produced a very disappointing yield, many of us took the small yield to be confirmation of this general hypothesis—North Korea had tried to skip directly to a compact device and it did not work. At one point, a reporter told me this was also the working hypothesis within the US intelligence community. Since then, North Korea has conducted two more nuclear tests that produced far higher yields—a few kilotons in 2009, followed by several kilotons in 2013. Following that latest test, the North Koreans announced they had “miniaturized” their nuclear devices. It seems very plausible to me that, after three tests, the North Koreans have a nuclear weapons design somewhere in the Mark 12 to March 7 range—450-750 kg in mass with a diameter between 60-90 cm. Lots of states have moved quickly to develop relatively smaller devices. The Chinese provided a uranium-based design to Pakistan that was 500 kg and 90 cm in diameter, which the Pakistanis miniaturized and passed on to Libya and lord knows who else. Such a warhead is certainly small enough to arm a Nodong and might just fit on a notional DPRK inter-continental ballistic missile. The problem here is how to estimate the capabilities of a DPRK ICBM that does not exist–based on Unha technology or the KN-08 mockups? If North Korea can’t make a warhead compact enough for its ICBMs, it is more likely to be because the ICBM doesn’t have enough payload space. Can North Korea’s Compact Nuclear Weapon Survive the Shock, Vibration and Temperature Change Associated with Ballistic Missile Flight? This is a more interesting problem. It’s all well and good to design a much smaller nuclear weapon using fancy electronics and so on, but the design must be rugged enough to survive the shock, vibration and temperature extremes of taking a ride on a ballistic missile. “The difference has to do with the confidence level in the actual ability of the North Koreans to make a weapon that will work in a missile,” James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, explained in 2013, “And neither we nor the North Koreans know whether that’ll actually—whether they have that—such capability, if they have it, will actually work.” This was a real problem for the Chinese in the 1960s, too. The Chinese developed a missile-delivered warhead for their DF-2 ballistic missile—the same design that China provided to Pakistan—and originally planned to simulate the abuse suffered during a real launch, followed by an underground test of the roughed-up bomb. The Chinese, however, decided that it was too hard to simulate the extreme conditions of flight. After a fair amount of back-and-forth between the weaponeers and the central leadership, Zhou Enlai authorized a very unusual live test of a real nuclear weapon on a real ballistic missile. China fired a nuclear-armed DF-2 in October 1966. It worked. The Chinese weren’t alone. We had the same debate in the United States a few years before. Like China, we also settled for a one-off demonstration called Operation Frigate Bird, in which a US submarine fired a nuclear-armed Polaris missile at a nuclear test site in the South Pacific. It worked too, although it later turned out that the warhead in question was judged unreliable. We might lack confidence in North Korea’s ability to manufacture a reliable miniaturized nuclear weapon. I wonder, though, how much that matters. Do the North Koreans lack confidence in their warheads? What if we underestimate them? What if they are drunk off Juche? What if, like Operation Frigate Bird, the unreliable weapon just happens to work when it’s fired? There is an interesting discussion to be had about reliability, confidence and deterrence, but I wonder whether it adds much to our assessment of North Korea. Finally, no matter how rugged one makes a nuclear warhead, it has to be packaged in a reentry vehicle that can survive the heat created as it reenters the earth’s atmosphere. The North Koreans could certainly package a warhead in a blunt reentry body that would be inaccurate, very heavy and potentially vulnerable to theater missile defense systems—but it would still survive reentry. The North Koreans, however, have paraded missiles with so-called “triconic” reentry vehicles that are sort of a compromise between blunt reentry bodies and the slender cones that arm missiles in the US and other advanced nuclear powers. A triconic reentry body must deal with heat through ablation—in other words, the reentry body must be made of material that burns off, taking the heat with it. This can be a significant challenge for an ICBM, where reentry speeds can reach 7 km/s. China, for example, struggled in the 1970s with developing a reentry vehicle for the DF-5 ICBM that could handle such temperatures. China Today, a series of publications on the technical history of China’s defense industries, describes the problem as “a technical difficulty” which is about as colorful as China Today gets. Ultimately, though, the Chinese solved that problem. In fact, I can’t think of a single state that has been able to build an ICBM, but not able to put a passable reentry vehicle on top of it. It is common to say North Korea would require a program of testing to overcome these problems. That’s understandable. In the 1960s, reentry vehicle designers probably struggled to model reentry environments and had a limited choice in materials. But today? After more than fifty years of space flight? With a large body of open source information, better computer simulation capabilities and fancy new materials? Maybe a little help from their friends? And maybe a little overconfidence? And, let’s be clear about the problem here. The warhead probably won’t burn up. Even the North Koreans don’t suck that badly. When designers talk about how hard it is to design an ablative reentry vehicle, what they really mean is designing one where the ablation occurs evenly around a spinning reentry vehicle. The Chinese were as worried about “the stability of the warhead in flight” as they were about protecting the bomb package inside. An unstable reentry body might fail completely, but it is more likely to just wildly miss the intended target—say landing in San Jose when it was aimed at San Francisco. That’s a problem, of course, but Kim Jong-un might be content with such an outcome. It is not surprising that some people in the US or ROK government think that, yes, North Korea might be able to do these things. Nor is it surprising that others would counsel caution, suggesting that North Korea hasn’t put all together in a single test. North Korea’s missile and nuclear “developments have been accompanied with extremely belligerent, aggressive public rhetoric toward the United States and South Korea,” Clapper testified in 2013. “North Korea has not, however, fully developed, tested or demonstrated the full range of capabilities necessary for a nuclear- armed missile.” In other words, prove it. But is that really what we want? Looking at the Chinese example, do we really want to insist that North Korea arm a missile with a live warhead and conduct a demonstration? A much better solution is trying to negotiate limits on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. Such limits would not eliminate the threat these programs pose, but they might keep them unreliable. That would be an achievement. I’ll be the first person to say that we should not exaggerate the capabilities of North Korea’s nuclear forces, but underestimating them is every bit as bad. The North Koreans are developing military capabilities that we will, sooner or later, have to deal with. I just happen to think that negotiations, as frustrating as they may be, are the best of a series of unappealing options. Moreover, underestimating the North Koreans often means that, when they surprise us, our political system over-compensates, passing from denial straight into panic. Consider the case of the August 1998 Taepodong launch. The US intelligence community had assessed, in 1995, that “No country, other than the major declared nuclear powers, will develop or otherwise acquire a ballistic missile in the next 15 years that could threaten the contiguous 48 states and Canada.” As it turns out, more than fifteen years later, they were right. (And the fine print on North Korea and the Taepodong program was pretty decent, as well.) So, when North Korea launched a Taepodong in 1998 with an unexpected third stage that failed, the intelligence community got a great big “congratulations” for a job well done. Oh, wait, no it didn’t. The intel was right, but that didn’t matter in part because the technical assessment didn’t convey North Korea’s ambitions to develop a capability that outstripped its abilities. Just imagine if North Korea were to conduct a live demonstration of a nuclear weapon on a Nodong out to sea. Even if it didn’t work, Washington, Seoul and Tokyo would go bonkers. That’s worth keeping in mind. Yes, the North Koreans probably stink at making compact warheads and accurate reentry vehicles. But that’s not quite the same thing as saying they aren’t trying, that they don’t have some confidence in these capabilities or that we shouldn’t keep trying to find ways to discourage them from testing these systems.” (Jeffrey Lewis, “North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons: The Great Miniaturization Debate,” 38North, February 5, 2015)


2/6/15:
South Korea is prepared to roll back a set of sanctions on North Korea if conditions are met through dialogue, a top official here said. Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said he government has already completed a relevant “study.” “Once talks are held between the South and the North, I believe it can serve as a chance for lifting the May 24th Measure,” he said at a forum in Seoul. The South wants the North to take responsible measures with regard to the Cheonan incident, while Pyongyang calls for the lifting of the sanctions as a precondition for reuniting families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. The minister, however, admitted that the government will come under growing pressure to ease or remove the May 24th Measure if the South’s trilateral logistics project with North Korea and Russia moves forward. The South aims to sign a formal contract on the so-called Rajin-Khasan project, in which the South’s top steelmaker, POSCO, will bring in Russian coal via the North’s port of Rajin. The government, Ryoo said, plans to allow social, cultural, religious and sports exchanges with the North as much as possible this year, the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan’s 35-year-long colonial rule. (Yonhap, “S. Korea Signals Flexibility on N.K. Sanctions,” February 6, 2015) “Economic cooperation isn’t happening right now because of the May 24 measures, but the administration has actually done all the studies on those measures,” Ryoo said on February 6 in a lecture held at Seoul’s Ritz Carlton Hotel at the invitation of Woori Bank. “If South Korean capital is invested after the main contract for the Rajin-Hasan project is completed, the situation with the May 24 measures starts to become very awkward,” he added. Ryoo also said the administration was likely to be more accepting of exchange because of events related to the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial occupation. “This year is the 70th anniversary of liberation, so the administration is planning to allow as much [exchange and cooperation] as possible in areas like society/culture, religion, and sports,” he explained. Another factor addressed by Ryoo was North Korea’s special economic zone development projects. “North Korea isn’t going to come right out and say it, but there have been messages that they would appreciate South Korea’s help,” he said. “If North Korea is pursuing economic openness, then their economy could develop very quickly with South Korean help,” he added. “We can’t do that now because of the nuclear issue.” While insisting that North Korea’s “attitude on the nuclear issue and other issues needs to change,” Ryoo also stressed the importance of Seoul taking the initiative. “Obviously, we have to make the first efforts to change that,” he said. “There is no objection whatsoever to the idea that we need to be act more preemptively and flexibly.” Ryoo went on to stress the importance of dialogue. “Even if [North and South Korea] have conflict, we still have to meet,” he said. “And I think that if we do meet, North Korea is obviously going to try some tricks and fail to keep its promises. But we still have to meet. We have to keep working to convince them to honor their promises.” Ryoo expressed unhappiness with the recent publication of memoirs by former President Lee Myung-bak containing previously undisclosed information about diplomatic efforts between Seoul and Pyongyang. “He shouldn’t say things like that. Just because you know about them doesn’t mean you should say them,” he said. “I actually know all about the back story behind the memoirs that President Lee Myung-bak recently wrote,” he added. His remarks sent a stronger message than the one recently coming from the Ministry of Unification, which has previously maintained that it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the content of a former president’s memoirs. Ryoo’s open displeasure may reflect a more general current of criticism within the current Park Geun-hye administration — and the perception that Lee acted imprudently by hampering efforts to improve inter-Korean relations with the release of previously undisclosed diplomatic details. Lee’s memoirs were previously subject to a strong denunciation in a February 5 statement from North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, which accused Lee of “slandering us and giving a skewed portrayal of behind-the-scenes meetings between North and South.” Ryoo also voiced displeasure over the Lee administration’s attempt to merge the Unification Ministry with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when it first took office in 2008. “The Unification Ministry nearly disappeared in 2008,” Ryoo said. “Some staffers are suffering even now from the trauma.” “Eighty employees at the main office lost their jobs. It makes no sense. And then to talk about ‘unification’ after that … ,” he continued. “We’re the world’s only divided nation, and if we have created an exclusive agency [for that], then we should stand behind it,” he added. (Son Won-je, “Unification Minister Says Sanctions on North Could Be Lifted If Dialogue Takes Place,” Hankyore, February 7, 2015)

North Korea has taken several measures to cooperate with the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering, Jang Sam-ryong, deputy governor of North Korea’s central bank, told AP Television News in a rare interview this week. He said that the North has joined the body as an observer nation. (Chosun Ilbo, “N. Korea Cooperating with Anti-Money-Laundering Body,” February 6, 2015)


2/7/15:
Ri Gun, a seasoned diplomat who has handled U.S. affairs, has been named as North Korea’s new envoy to Poland, the country’s state-run news agency KCNA said. Ri, the director general in charge of North American affairs at the North’s foreign ministry, will replace Kim Pyong-il who has recently been transferred to the Czech Republic. Kim, a younger half-brother of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, had served as the North’s ambassador to Poland for 17 years. (Yonhap, “Seasoned Diplomat Named to Serve as N. Korea’s New Envoy to Poland,” February 7, 2015)


2/8/15:
North Korea test-fired five short-range missiles into the sea off its east coast Sunday, raising cross-border tensions ahead of Seoul’s planned joint army drills with the US. The North fired the missiles into the East Sea (Sea of Japan) from its eastern city of Wonsan between 4:20-5:10 pm, (0720-0810 GMT) Seoul’s defense ministry spokesman told AFP. They flew about 200 kilometers (124 miles) before landing. “We are closely watching for any signs of additional missile launches by the North,” said the spokesman. Yesterday, the North said it had test-fired an “ultra-precision” anti-ship rocket, which will be deployed across its navy “before long.” (AFP, “North Korea Fires Short-Range Missiles into Sea,” February 8, 2015)


2/9/15:
Only 53.1 percent of North Korean defectors were employed in 2014, 7.7 percent less than the overall employment rate of 60.8 percent in South Korea, a survey of defectors by the Korea Hana Foundation, which helps defectors adjust to life in the South, shows. (Chosun Ilbo, “Nearly Half of N. Korean Defectors Unemployed,” February 10, 2015)

North Korea’s total grain production last year reached its highest level since the country’s economy began its collapse in the mid-1990s. According to the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization, the North produced nearly 5 million tons of rice, corn and beans in 2014, an increase of 130,000 tons from a year earlier. (Arirang News, “N. Korea’s Grain Production at Highest Level Since 1990s,” February 9, 2015)


2/10/15:
The United States “strongly supports” South Korea’s initiative for inter-Korean dialogue as it could help prod North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program, a ranking U.S. official said Tuesday. At a meeting with university students in Seoul, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken said Washington is supportive of South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s bid to improve ties with North Korea, stressing that the two allies have “the exactly same approach” to Pyongyang’s nuclear issue. “If there is progress there, it would demonstrate that North Korea is actually prepared to engage with us. It might create a better environment also where we can pursue denuclearization,” Blinken told a group of students at the U.S. embassy in Seoul. “So we have total harmony in policy approach between Washington and Seoul on this.” (Kim Soo-yeon, “Better Inter-Korean Ties Could Pave Way for N.K. Denuclearization: U.S. Official,” Yonhap, February 10, 2015)


2/11/15:
South Korea and the United States plan to carry out a three-day joint exercise starting today on shaping deterrence strategies to counter threats from North Korea, the defense ministry here said. The allies will hold the annual discussion-based tabletop exercise (TTX) at Seoul’s state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA) “to discuss how to politically and militarily respond to North Korea’s nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles,” according to the ministry. South Korea will be represented by Ryu Je-seung, South Korea’s Deputy Minister for National Defense Policy, and the U.S. by Elaine Bunn, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy and David Helvey, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia, the ministry said, adding some 40 officials from the two sides will be on hand. Prior to the exercise, Seoul and Washington plan to hold the “Track 1.5” deterrence dialogue bringing together security experts and TTX participants to check the allies’ readiness posture and to explore ways to strengthen defense capabilities, the ministry said. “The TTX this year will be the first one that the South Korean ministry took the lead from planning to the execution,” the ministry said in a release. “We expect the exercise to lay the groundwork for the allies to have in-depth discussions and to practically implement their strong will and policy measures against North Korea’s threats posed by its nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles,” it added. (Oh Seok-min, “S. Korea, U.S. to Stage Deterrence Drill against N. Korea,” Yonhap, February 10, 2015)

North Korea’s former deputy chief of its mission to the United Nations has been named as new head of the North American affairs department at Pyongyang’s foreign ministry, a diplomatic source said. Han Song-ryol, who assumed the No. 2 post at the North’s U.N. mission from 2009-2013, will replace predecessor Ri Kun, the source said. The appointment was made as Ri has been named North Korea’s new ambassador to Poland. Han also served as the deputy chief of the North’s mission to the U.N. from 2002-2006. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Names New Point Man on U.S. Affairs,” Korea Times, February 11, 2015)


2/16/15:
The National Assembly narrowly endorsed President Park Geun-hye’s nominee for prime minister, reflecting deep rifts over his eligibility for the job. Lee Wan-koo passed the confirmation motion 148-128. Only 281 of 295 legislators showed up to vote, and confirmation of a prime minister requires a simple majority. At least seven lawmakers in the ruling Saenuri Party either opposed Lee or abstained. Lee was already Park’s second pick for the country’s No. 2 job and replaces Chung Hong-won, who resigned in April last year over the deadly ferry disaster. But Park bungled two efforts to appoint a successor and prevailed on Chung to stay in the job. There are concerns, however, that the embattled replacement has already lost too much momentum to do the job effectively. Lee, like almost every one of Park’s candidates, has been criticized for alleged speculative land deals, as well as attempts to influence media executives to stop reporters writing negative stories about him. But his supporters are banking on his strong political support from the Chungcheong region. Lee is from South Chungeong Province, which has been a major swing region in general elections. (Chosun Ilbo, “National Assembly Narrowly Backs New P.M., February 16, 2015)

North Korea said it is not worried about a threat to refer the country to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, because it is not guilty and wants to attend a U.S. meeting on its rights situation to defend itself. “We are not worried at all because at every move we can strongly respond to such a move and we are not guilty of any crime,” U.N. Ambassador Jang Il Hun told a news conference at the country’s mission to the United Nations. “We totally reject and categorically deny all those claims,” he said. Jang also said he asked the United States to scrap a conference on human rights in North Korea to be held at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank tomorrow. “We also demanded that in case the conference is enforced as scheduled then we had to participate … as a party directly concerned,” he said. “I sent a formal request to my counterpart in the State Department and he responded that it’s not a U.S. government event. So it means our request was denied.” Asked about the North Korean request, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said it was a privately organized event, while adding: “The wide range of participants from around the world reflects the international community’s ‎continued concern with the dire human rights situation in North Korea.” Conference chair Victor Cha, the head of the CSIS Korea program, said the meeting was open to the public and the think tank generally does not issue specific invitations. North Korean diplomats at the United Nations need State Department permission to travel outside of New York City, Cha said. “This event is a futile attempt on the part of the United States and South Korea to give credibility to the Commission of Inquiry report amid increasing skepticism … the report was based on fabricated forced testimonies,” Jang said. (Michelle Nichols, “North Korea Says Unworried by ICC Threat Because It’s Not Guilty,” Reuters, February 16, 2015)


2/17/15:
President Park Geun-hye tapped her secretary for unification affairs as South Korea’s new point man on North Korea in a Cabinet shake-up, an official said. Hong Yong-pyo, 51-year-old Oxford-educated expert on North Korea, will replace Ryoo Kihl-jae as unification minister, who is in charge of relations with the communist country. Hong “is the right person who can resolve pending inter-Korean issues as he has an in-depth understanding of the government’s policy and philosophy on North Korea,” senior presidential press secretary Yoon Doo-hyun said. It’s not clear whether Hong’s nomination will signal any policy shift toward North Korea. Park also nominated Yoo Ki-june, a U.S.-educated ruling Saenuri party lawmaker, as her new maritime minister, a post that has remained vacant since December. She also named Yoo Il-ho, another ruling party lawmaker as her new minister of land, infrastructure and transport while nominating Yim Jong-yong, chairman of Nonghyup Financial Group Inc., as head of the Financial Services Commission, the country’s financial regulator. The Cabinet shake-up came a day after Lee Wan-koo, Park’s choice for prime minister, won parliamentary endorsement. It is widely seen as Park’s attempt to try and refresh her team as she enters her third year in power. (Yonhap, “Park Taps Adie As New Point Man on N. Korea,” February 17, 2015)

China sent no delegation to the birthday anniversary of North Korea’s late leader, Kim Jong-il, China’s foreign ministry said.

Asked whether China sent a delegation to the North Korean event, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying replied, “Yesterday was the Day of the Shining Star in North Korea. The Chinese embassy in North Korea attended the relevant activity upon the invitation of the North Korean side.” (Yonhap, “China Sent No Delegation to Birthday Anniversary of Kim Jong-il,” February 17, 2015)


2/18/15:
North Korea conducted the first flight test of a new submarine-launched ballistic missile last month, defense officials said this week. The flight test of what the Pentagon is calling the KN-11 missile took place January 23 off the coast of North Korea from a sea-based platform—not a submarine—located off the coast of the communist state, said officials familiar with reports of the flight test. U.S. intelligence ships and aircraft monitored the test and tracked the successful missile firing. Additional details of the flight test could not be learned. The flight test followed a land-based ejection test of the KN-11 in November from a static launcher located at the North’s Sinpo South Shipyard in November. Sinpo is a port city on North Korea’s southeastern coast about 100 miles from the Demilitarized Zone separating North Korea from rival South Korea. The flight test is being viewed by U.S. intelligence analysts as a significant step forward for Pyongyang’s submarine-launched ballistic missile program. The new program was first disclosed by the Washington Free Beacon August 26. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Vincent R. Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the House Armed Services Committee Feb. 3 that North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs “pose a serious threat to the U.S. and regional allies.” “Pyongyang maintains that nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities are essential to ensure its sovereignty,” Stewart said in a prepared statement. “Because of its conventional military deficiencies, the DPRK [North Korea] also has concentrated on improving its deterrence capabilities, especially its nuclear technology and ballistic missile forces.” Stewart added that DIA is concerned North Korea will conduct a fourth underground nuclear test in the future. The DIA director’s testimony made no mention of the SLBM program. But he said: “Pyongyang also is making efforts to expand and modernize its deployed missile forces consisting of close-, short-, medium-, and intermediate-range systems.” “It seeks to develop longer-range ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons to the United States and continues efforts to bring its KN-08 road-mobile ICBM to operational capacity. Other analysts assess the SLBM missile will be developed as a nuclear delivery system for Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal. A submarine-launched nuclear missile would add a more-difficult target to U.S. regional deterrence and missile defenses. Since the SLBM program was disclosed last year, South Korea’s government has confirmed the program. Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said the use of a floating launch platform indicates the KN-11 could be launched from a military or commercial ship as well as from a submarine. Platform test launches also indicate that the weapon is in an early stage of development and is not ready to be launched from a submerged submarine. “For Pyongyang, using the KN-11 from ships as well as submarines rapidly increases the number of potential launch platforms, as it also complicates U.S. and allied efforts to monitor a new North Korean missile threat,” Fisher said. “Firing the KN-11 from a floating platform is still useful, as it would go far to help verify whether the missile’s guidance system is able to compensate very quickly for wave motion in order to achieve the desired trajectory for the greatest accuracy.” As for why Pyongyang is building the underwater missile, Fisher said: “The advent of the KN-11 offers North Korea the means to launch missile strikes against U.S. forces in Japan or against South Korea and Japanese targets, from multiple directions, from land bases, and from the sea.” Fisher said in response to the missile that the Pentagon should urgently build up additional missile defenses and revive U.S. sea-based tactical nuclear arms in the region to bolster deterrence. The Pentagon’s retirement of submarine-launched Tomahawk missile in 2010 was a “major mistake,” he said. Bruce E. Bechtol, a North Korea specialist, said the major threat from any North Korean ballistic missile is whether the weapon is mobile—thus more difficult to target—and whether it can hit U.S. cities and carry a nuclear warhead. U.S. intelligence agencies suspect North Korea in 2013 had developed a small nuclear warhead for delivery on long-range missiles after its third nuclear test. “The North Koreans appear to be moving toward at least two of the three key parts of the threat a missile could pose to the United States,” said Bechtol, a former Defense Intelligence Agency official currently at Angelo State University. “If and when they are able to launch the SLBM from a submarine, it means a platform that is mobile enough that it would likely be difficult for U.S. missile defenses to track,” he said. “The fact that the submarine could move to within just a few miles of American coastlines such as Alaska, Hawaii, or the west coast of the United States, means they could meet the second part of the missile threat to the U.S.” North Korea probably obtained small nuclear warhead know-how from the Pakistani nuclear supplier group headed by A.Q. Khan. “The fact that the North Koreans have test-launched this missile—even though it was not from a submarine—means that the DPRK is advancing their SLBM program,” Bechtol said. “This is a threat—a direct threat—to the United States that should be taken seriously if it comes to fruition.” North Korea obtained from Russia SS-N-6 submarine-launched ballistic missiles several years ago. The missile was adapted to North Korea’s Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile. North Korea also has six KN-08 road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles that were developed with launchers supplied by China. The submarine North Korea plans to deploy the KN-11 on is not known. North Korea obtained several decommissioned Soviet-era Golf II ballistic-missile submarines in the early 1990s. Pyongyang may seek to copy or adapt the design of the Golf II for an indigenous missile submarine. (Bill Gertz, “North Korea Flight Tests New Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile,” Washington Free Beacon, February 18, 2015)


2/20/15:
Frank Rose: “As you’re all aware, China is continuing to develop its BMD capabilities. Although China does not say much about its BMD programs, China publicly announced that it conducted ground-based mid-course BMD tests in 2010, 2013, and 2014. I’ll say more about the 2014 “BMD” test later. Chinese state media has stated that such tests are defensive in nature and are not targeted at any country. I was in Beijing earlier this month, and the message I delivered was clear: It is important that our governments have a sustained dialogue on the role that our BMD systems have in our respective defense policies and strategies. We would welcome an opportunity to learn more about how BMD fits into China’s defense policy and strategy. More broadly, a sustained dialogue would improve our understanding of China’s strategic perspective and enhance China’s understanding of U.S. policy and strategy. Institutionalizing discussions of strategic issues is a prudent long-term approach to strengthening strategic stability and exploring means for strengthening mutual trust and risk reduction. To encourage that dialogue, we have taken and will continue to take steps to keep China informed about developments in U.S. BMD policy. The U.S. experience with BMD and specifically with our Ground-based Midcourse Defense System, or GMD, provides a useful lens for examining the challenges the Chinese would face in developing a BMD capability to threaten our nuclear deterrent. We have been clear that our homeland BMD capabilities provide for defense of the U.S. homeland from limited ICBM attack, and are purposely not intended to affect Russia’s or China’s strategic deterrent. The GMD system is designed to support that policy, and it is not scaled, intended, or capable of defending the United States against the larger and more sophisticated arsenals of Russia and China. GMD is designed to protect the U.S. homeland only from limited ICBM attacks from states such as North Korea and Iran. The U.S. experience with BMD suggests that attempting to develop a comprehensive homeland BMD system to defend against ballistic missile attack from China or Russia would be extremely challenging — and costly — given the size and sophistication of Chinese and Russian ICBMs. This owes to several factors, including the relatively low number of GMD interceptors and the sophistication and large numbers of Russian and Chinese missiles. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated this publically on May 18, 2010, in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when he said that trying to eliminate the viability of the Russian nuclear capability would be “unbelievably expensive.” Given these factors, we could potentially expect a notional Chinese equivalent to the GMD system to provide at most a limited defense of the Chinese homeland, which would not counter the U.S. strategic deterrent and therefore would not undermine strategic stability. This is for the same reason that GMD does not impact strategic stability: the number of interceptors is low and they are not designed to deal with complex threats, and developing a comprehensive system to cope with a full-scale attack from another nuclear-armed great power would be expensive and ultimately unsuccessful. There is a another important aspect of China’s BMD program that bears discussing, which is its connection with China’s anti-satellite, or ASAT, weapons program. On July 23, 2014, the Chinese Government conducted a non-destructive test of a missile designed to destroy satellites in low Earth orbit. However, China publicly called this ASAT test a “land-based missile interception test.” Despite China’s claims that this was not an ASAT test; let me assure you the United States has high confidence in its assessment, that the event was indeed an ASAT test. The continued development and testing of destructive ASAT systems is both destabilizing and threatens the long-term security and sustainability of the outer space environment. A previous destructive test of the Chinese system in 2007 created thousands of pieces of debris, which continue to present an ongoing danger to the space systems—as well as astronauts—of all nations, including China. The destructive nature of debris-generating weapons has decades-long consequences: they can increase the potential for further collisions in the future, which only create more debris. A debris-forming test or attack may only be minutes in duration, but the consequences can last for decades. It is for these reasons that the United States believes testing debris-generating ASAT systems threat.en the security, economic well-being, and civil endeavors of all nations. …China’s ASAT program, and the lack of transparency accompanying it, also impedes bilateral space cooperation. While we prefer cooperation, it will by necessity have to be a product of a step-by-step approach starting with dialogue, leading to modest CBMs, which might then perhaps lead to deeper engagement. However, none of this is possible until China changes its behavior with regard to ASATs.” (DoS, “Remarks by Frank A. Rose, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance,” Federation of Atomic Scientists, Washington, February 20, 2015)

When the North Korean carpenter was offered a job in Kuwait in 1996, he leapt at the chance. He was promised $120 a month, an unimaginable wage for most workers in his famine-stricken country, where most people are not allowed to travel abroad. But for Rim Il, the deal soured from the start: Under a moonlit night, the bus carrying him and a score of other fresh arrivals pulled into a desert camp cordoned off with barbed-wire fences. There, 1,800 workers, sent by North Korea to earn badly needed foreign currency, were living together under the watchful eyes of North Korean government supervisors, Mr. Rim said. They worked from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. or, often, midnight, seven days a week, doing menial jobs at construction sites. “We only took a Friday afternoon off twice a month but had to spend the time studying books or watching videos about the greatness of our leader back home,” Rim said at a recent news conference in Seoul, the South Korean capital. “We were never paid our wages, and when we asked our superiors about them, they said we should think of starving people back home and thank the leader for giving us this opportunity of eating three meals a day.” Tens of thousands of North Koreans work long hours for little or no pay, toiling in Chinese factories or Russian logging camps, digging military tunnels in Myanmar, building monuments for African dictators, sweating at construction sites in the Middle East or aboard fishing boats off Fiji, according to former workers and human rights researchers. For decades, North Korea has been accused of sending workers abroad and of confiscating most of their wages. But in the years since Kim Jong-un took over as leader, human rights researchers say, the program has expanded rapidly as international sanctions have squeezed the country’s other sources of foreign currency, like illicit trading in missile parts. A 2012 study by the North Korea Strategy Center, a group in Seoul that works with North Korean defectors, and the private Korea Policy Research Center estimated that 60,000 to 65,000 North Koreans were working in more than 40 countries, providing the state with $150 million to $230 million a year. That number has since grown to 100,000, human rights researchers said. “North Korea is exploiting their labor and salaries to fatten the private coffers of Kim Jong-un,” said Ahn Myeong-chul, head of NK Watch, a human rights group in Seoul. “We suspect that Kim is using some of the money to buy luxury goods for his elite followers and finance the recent building boom in Pyongyang that he has launched to show off his leadership.” In a report published late last year, the Seoul-based Asan Institute for Policy Studies said that the revenue from overseas workers helped the North Korean government bypass international sanctions, which have been tightened in recent years. “Earnings are not sent back as remittances, but appropriated by the state and transferred back to the country in the form of bulk cash,” it said, noting that sanctions ban the transfer of bulk cash to the Pyongyang government. “Returning workers also act as mules to carry hard currency earnings back to North Korea.” NK Watch has collected the testimony of 13 former North Korean workers now living in South Korea, in support of a petition to the United Nations asking for an investigation into what it calls “state-sponsored slavery.” The petition, to be filed next month to the United Nations’ special rapporteur on contemporary slavery, said the migrants worked a minimum of 12 hours a day, were given a few days off a year, and commonly received only 10 percent of their promised pay, or none at all. NK Watch said that there had never been an official investigation into the practice and that it was appealing to the United Nations in hopes of building on the work of a report last year that documented widespread human rights abuses inside North Korea. The workers interviewed by NK Watch said they were victims of a chain of exploitation and deception. They described a system where government minders monitored their movements and communications and required them to spy on one another. The minders often confiscated the workers’ passports. “These workers face threats of government reprisals against them or their relatives in North Korea if they attempt to escape or complain to outside parties,” the State Department said in a report published last year. “Workers’ salaries are deposited into accounts controlled by the North Korean government, which keeps most of the money, claiming various ‘voluntary’ contributions to government endeavors.” The Workers’ Party, the ruling party in North Korea, instructed a group in Kuwait to send home $500,000 a month, more than its members’ regular salaries combined, a North Korean supervisor who worked there from 2011 to last year told NK Watch. Former workers in Kuwait and elsewhere said they were forced to work even longer hours and seek odd jobs in the local community, splitting the earnings with government minders who demanded bribes in return for allowing them such opportunities. One worker told NK Watch that he received only $160 in the three years he worked in a Siberian logging camp in the 1990s, toiling up to 21 hours a day in temperatures often colder than minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. He was told the rest of his wages were sent home to his family. But families were given only coupons for state-owned stores, where there was often nothing to buy, former workers said. Still, in North Korea, the opportunity to work overseas was considered such a privilege that the jobs had to be bought with bribes. Former workers said their biggest fear was when supervisors threatened to send them home when they failed to meet exorbitant production targets or offer bribes. And compared with many of their compatriots at home, they were well fed. Kim Yoon-tae, a researcher on North Korean human rights, said that the international community could pressure countries that use North Korean labor to honor basic international standards for labor protection, including an end to the practice of giving workers’ salaries to the government. Rim said he was paid in cash only once during the five months he worked in Kuwait before he escaped into the South Korean Embassy there in 1997. To celebrate the birthday of Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un’s father and predecessor, supervisors gave each worker about $65 to buy cigarettes. “Our life was nothing but slavery,” Rim said. (Choe Sang-hun, “North Korea Exports Forced Laborers for Profit, Rights Groups Say,” New York Times, February 20, 2015, p. A-8).


2/21/15:
Kim Jong-un has inspected an artillery and landing exercise by front-line units deployed near the Yellow Sea. The drill, joined by artillery forces of the 4th Corp. and island defense units, focused on training for “striking and seizing an island,” said KCNA. The 4th Corp. led the North’s shelling of a South Korean border island, Yeonpyeong, in November 2010, which killed four South Korean marines and civilians and wounded more than a dozen others. Conducted at the direct instruction of Kim, the main aim of the latest training was to prepare for a fight against the United States, it added. “The entire army should make their training more intense, as the anti-Japanese guerrillas did in Mount Paektu, to prepare all soldiers as stalwart combatants and turn all units into an iron-willed guards unit and thus bring the anti-U.S. confrontation to the final conclusion by crushing the enemies promptly in case they pounce upon the DPRK,” Kim was quoted as saying. (Yonhap, “N. Korean Leader Inspects Island Landing Training,” February 21, 2015)


2/22/15:
The Navy carried out two flights tests of the Trident II nuclear missile last month, weeks after China and North Korea conducted submarine-launched ballistic missile test firings. The two Trident II D5 missiles were launched from a submerged Ohio-class missile submarine in the western Pacific on February 22. “A credible, effective nuclear deterrent is essential to our national security and the security of U.S. allies and friends,” Admiral Cecil D. Haney, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said March 2 in announcing the test. “Strategic weapons tests such as these are a visible demonstration for assuring our allies and deterring our adversaries that our nation’s strategic triad is safe, secure and effective,” the four-star admiral said. The missiles carried dummy warheads. (Bill Gertz, “North Korean Hacking Tests Nations,” Washington Times, March 4, 2015)


2/23/15:
KCNA: “An enlarged meeting of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) took place under the guidance of Kim Jong-un, first secretary of the WPK, chairman of the Central Military Commission of the WPK, first chairman of the National Defense Commission of the DPRK and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army (KPA). Attending the meeting were members of the Central Military Commission of the WPK, executive members of the KPA Committee of the WPK and commanding officers of services and corps-level units. The participants observed a moment’s silence in memory of leader Kim Jong Il at the proposal of Kim Jong-un. The meeting discussed important strategic issues of bringing about a radical turn in the overall work for national defense as required by the prevailing situation and developing revolution and an organizational matter. Kim Jong-un made a historic speech. He said that over the past three years since the demise of Kim Jong Il the service personnel of the KPA have safeguarded the WPK and the revolution with pure conscience and clear mind, regarding the loyalty to the party and leader and moral obligation as dearer than their own lives despite the graver situation at home and abroad than ever before. The enlarged meeting is of weighty significance in clearly indicating the future orientation of building the army for carrying out the behests of Kim Jong Il and letting the People’s Army, the main force for the Songun revolution, win victories in defending socialism and all sectors for building a thriving nation this year so as to successfully greet the 70th anniversaries of the WPK and the liberation of the country as grand political festivals, he noted. …Emphasizing the need for the KPA to focus all its efforts on rounding off combat readiness this year, he said to this end, it was necessary to simplify the machinery of the KPA and indicated the orientation and ways for reorganizing the machinery in such a way as to realize the strategic intention of the Supreme Command any time. Calling on the KPA to be fully ready to react to any form of war to be ignited by the enemy, he clarified the methods of fighting a war with the U.S. imperialists and corresponding operational and tactical matters.” (KCNA, “Enlarged Meeting of WPK Central Military Commission Held under the Guidance of Kim Jong-un,” February 23, 2015)


2/24/15:
Five countries to the six-party talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear program have reached a consensus on the need to have exploratory dialogue to gauge Pyongyang’s willingness to denuclearize, Seoul’s top nuke envoy, Hwang Joon-kook, after he and his Russian counterpart, Morgulov Igor, held a meeting in Moscow to discuss ways to resume the long-stalled six-party talks. Hwang left for Russia yesterday for a three-day visit. Hwang said that five countries — South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia — have narrowed gaps over conditions for the resumption of the denuclearization talks that also involve North Korea through a series of recent bilateral and trilateral meetings among the five nations’ top nuke negotiators. “The five countries have built consensus about the need to have ‘exploratory talks’ to gauge whether North Korea is serious about denuclearization before reopening the six-party forum,” Hwang told Korean correspondents in Moscow. “Six-way exploratory dialogue involving the North can be also taken into account.” Hwang said that the consensus will be delivered to Pyongyang in an appropriate manner, expressing hope that North Korea could respond to such a request with sincerity. The format of such talks can be seen as a compromise as Seoul and Washington stressed Pyongyang show sincerity toward denuclearization, while the North, China and Russia put more focus on the reopening of the six-party talks without preconditions. South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told YTN cable news that excluding the North, the other four nations have considerably appreciated the so-called Korean Formula, Seoul’s initiative to resume the six-party talks in a “multifaceted and creative” manner. “We believe that the level to which North Korea can show its sincerity toward denuclearization is neither too high nor too low. (The Korean Formula) contains contents involving a proper level to which the North is able to begin to denuclearize,” Yun said, without elaborating. (Yonhap, “5 Nations Want Exploratory Talks on N.K. Nuke Program: Seoul Envoy,” February 25, 2015)


2/25/15:
North Korea has continued high-explosive detonation tests and its possible nuclear test is forecast to be much more powerful both in scale and yield than previous ones, Seoul’s intelligence authorities said. “North Korea has been carrying out high-explosive tests at a test site in Pyongyang to secure technology for weapons miniaturization and stronger explosive power,” an official said. “Should the North conduct a fourth round of nuclear test, its explosion would have a yield of at least 10 to 15 kilotons with a larger scale compared to the previous ones,” he added. The North’s initial underground test in 2006 measured 3.9 on the Richter scale with a wield of less than 1 kiloton. In May 2009, Pyongyang carried out the second test that created a 4.5-magnitude tremor with a yield of 3 to 4 kilotons. During the third and the latest test in February 2013, the figures jumped to 4.9 on scale and 6-7 kilotons, according to South Korean and U.S. authorities. “No unusual signs have been detected in and around its nuclear test site of Punggye-ri in North Hamkyong Province. But Pyongyang has been ready to carry out a fresh test round whenever it wants,” the official noted. In its 2014 white paper, Seoul said the North is presumed to have secured some 40 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium, “but the figure is literally nothing but a presumption,” he said. Yesterday, Joel Wit, the chief analyst running the website 38 North at Johns Hopkins University, said Pyongyang is currently believed to have 10-16 nuclear weapons — six to eight of them based on plutonium and four to eight based on weapons-grade uranium — and its nuclear stockpile could expand to as many as 100 weapons by 2020. (Oh Seok-min, “N. Korea’s Possible Nuke Test Forecast to Be More Powerful: Seoul,” Yonhap, February 25, 2015)


2/26/15:
North Korea is not yet likely to have miniaturized nuclear warheads to mount on ballistic missiles, though it appears to have been developing related technology to a “considerable” degree, Seoul’s Defense Ministry said. “They have technology of a considerable level but it is unlikely they are capable of miniaturizing nuclear warheads. In other words, they have not mastered the weaponization process,” ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said at a regular news briefing. “Would you be able to make nuclear weapons without succeeding in miniaturizing them?” Kim said. “(Wit’s assertion) is simply an assumption by some private organization or experts, not substantiated by any evidence. We assess that (North Korea) has yet to secure the technology.”

No signs of another underground blast have been detected from across the border, Kim noted, despite a news report that the communist country is gearing up to detonate an atomic device in May. “As we’ve repeatedly said, North Korea appears to be ready to go ahead with a fresh test whenever it wants. But it should make a decision, facing a significant level of political pressure including U.N. sanctions,” the spokesman said. (Shin Hyon-hee, “’N.K.’s Nuke Miniaturization Limited,’” Korea Herald, February 26, 2015)

ISIS: “As of the end of 2014, the DPRK is estimated to have a stock of 30-34 kg of separated plutonium, or an average of 32 kg. …Adjacent to the 5 MWe reactor, the DPRK is constructing what is called an experimental light water reactor (ELWR) with a stated power of about 100 MWth and an electrical output of about 30-35 MWe. The ELWR has not yet started operation but could do so in 2015 or 2016. Whether the ELWR will be strictly for civil purposes is not known …If the ELWR were limited to strictly civilian use and optimized to make electricity economically, it would produce plutonium that is not ideal for nuclear weapons—called reactor-grade plutonium. Typically, the fuel, in which the plutonium is produced, contains low-enriched uranium (LEU) containing about 3-4 percent uranium-235, and this fuel is typically heavily irradiated in this type of reactor, creating the reactor-grade plutonium rather than the more desirable weapons-grade plutonium sought by nuclear weapons programs. Moreover, North Korea’s Radiochemical Laboratory is not designed to separate the plutonium from the ELWR fuel, and would require significant modifications to do so. If North Korea wanted to use this reactor to produce weapons-grade plutonium, it could do so using a more practical method developed in the 1980s by the US Department of Energy when it was considering alternative methods of making weapons-grade plutonium and tritium for US nuclear weapons. In this case, a light water reactor uses enriched uranium driver fuel (10-20 percent enriched in the isotope uranium-235) and natural or depleted uranium targets, where the weapons-grade plutonium is produced in the targets. Reactor-grade plutonium would be produced in the driver fuel. The weapons-grade plutonium in the targets would be recovered, and targets can be designed to make them relatively straightforward to process in the Radiochemical Laboratory, requiring manageable changes to this plant. An advantage of this method is that there would be no need to process the ELWR driver fuel; it can be stored indefinitely. The processing of this driver fuel would require major modifications to the Radiochemical Laboratory that would be hard to achieve in practice. However, with a driver/target system, the DPRK could efficiently and on a sustained basis make weapons-grade plutonium. Depending on design, it could produce up to 20 kg of weapons-grade plutonium per year. …Any nuclear weapons program is likely to pursue successive designs that use smaller quantities of plutonium in each weapon. In the case of North Korea, faced with a limited stock of plutonium, one would expect that the nuclear weaponization program focused early on developing designs requiring less plutonium than that of first generation fission weapons of the type detonated by the United States during the World War II Manhattan Project. The Trinity explosion contained about 6 kg of plutonium. Over time, North Korea likely reduced the amount of plutonium it needed in each weapon to significantly less than 6 kg. In its Six Party declaration, the North stated that the 2006 nuclear test contained only 2 kg of plutonium. Although there is wide skepticism about this particular declaration, it reinforces the point that North Korea is likely seeking to use less plutonium in each test than the United States used in the Trinity test. A North Korean nuclear weapon is assumed in this analysis to contain between 2 and 5 kg of plutonium, where values in the middle of the range are weighted more than those at the ends of the range. This weighting reflects a judgment that North Korea is unlikely to use on average as little as 2 kg or as much as 5 kg per weapon. The most likely values are about 3-4 kg. With this range and a separated plutonium inventory of 32-34 kg, Crystal Ball™ software is used to estimate the number of nuclear weapons that can be made. The results are a slightly skewed distribution with a median of 9.6 nuclear weapons, which would imply 9-10 nuclear weapons. The distribution’s standard deviation is 1.7, reflecting the weighting of the amount of plutonium per weapon discussed above. The standard deviation measures how many results are within almost 70 percent of the median. It can be used to produce a range of values that likely capture the true value. In this case, this range would be about 8-11 nuclear weapons. It should be noted that this assumes all the available plutonium is used in nuclear weapons. Thus, these values provide the nuclear weapons equivalent of a given amount of plutonium. The actual number of nuclear weapons would be expected to be fewer in number. A fraction of this plutonium would be tied up in the manufacturing complex that makes plutonium components of nuclear weapons or lost during such processing. Some separated plutonium may be held in a reserve for underground nuclear testing or for new types of weapons. In this estimate, it is assumed that only about 70 percent of the total amount of plutonium is used in nuclear weapons. Applying this assumption, North Korea would have approximately 6-8 nuclear weapons made out of plutonium as of the end of 2014. Great uncertainty surrounds the DPRK’s production of weapons-grade uranium, the type of enriched uranium typically used in nuclear weapons.6 WGU is enriched uranium that contains 90 percent or more of the key nuclear explosive isotope uranium-235. This section focuses on estimating weapons-grade uranium production through 2014. North Korea is believed to have been using a P2-type centrifuge in its uranium enrichment program, which is composed of a single rotor tube with a bellows in the middle of the tube. It received several such centrifuges from Pakistan and a great deal of associated manufacturing and assembly technology. It is also believed to have produced P2-type centrifuges in large quantities. It remains uncertain how many centrifuge plants North Korea has built. In addition to the production-scale plant at Yongbyon, US intelligence officials have long asserted that the North has another, hidden, production-scale centrifuge plant. An estimate of WGU production depends on several factors, including whether there is a secret centrifuge plant in addition to the Yongbyon plant, how many P2-type centrifuges have been deployed successfully, and how well have these centrifuges operated. For example, the centrifuges are assessed as relatively inefficient when operating in production-scale cascades, where a centrifuge in such a cascade achieves an average enrichment output that is only 50-80 percent of the output of a centrifuge operating alone….To better understand the amount of weapons-grade uranium that North Korea could have produced through 2014, two scenarios are considered based on the available evidence. The first assumes that a second centrifuge plant is operating. The second assumes that the Yongbyon plant is the only one. Both scenarios assume that North Korea is making weapons-grade uranium. Other scenarios are possible, resulting in more or less WGU, but these two are judged as realistic possibilities that do not dramatically over or underestimate the actual WGU stock. The main characteristics of the two scenarios are: • Scenario 1: North Korea operates two production-scale centrifuge plants, the first of which started production sometime between the end of 2005 and 2010. The first plant is assumed to have produced WGU and contain 2,000-3,000 P2-type centrifuges. The second one is the Yongbyon centrifuge plant, which is assumed to have made LEU for reactor fuel only through 2014. It contains at least 2,000 P2-type centrifuges and could produce WGU but does not. One reason may be that North Korea does not want any evidence of WGU production to be detected by international inspectors in case a negotiated freeze at Yongbyon leads to a monitored shutdown of the centrifuge plant. • Scenario 2: North Korea has only one production-scale centrifuge plant that started in 2010. During 2010 and 2011, the plant made LEU for the ELWR; afterwards, for three years, it produced WGU. This scenario is close to North Korea’s public statements about its centrifuge program. The plant is assumed to have 2,000 P2-type centrifuges; additional centrifuges are assumed not to have become operational as of the end of 2014, for example, as a result of the recent expansion in the size of the Yongbyon centrifuge plant. It is a matter of speculation how North Korea would use WGU in nuclear weapons. It could use the WGU to fashion fission weapons similar to its plutonium-based fission weapons, albeit necessitating more fissile material and a larger-diameter warhead design. Alternatively, North Korea could use WGU in conjunction with plutonium, or a “composite core,” to seek fission weapons with a significantly greater explosive yield. The North could also use the WGU with plutonium in designing one-stage thermonuclear explosive devices. The last option is possible in the future with further nuclear tests but unlikely as of 2014. North Korea is likely able to build composite core designs but no evidence of such work has emerged, and this option is also considered unlikely as of the end of 2014. Using Crystal Ball™ software to perform the calculation, the median estimate of Scenario 1 is about 240 kg of weapons-grade uranium through 2014, with a standard deviation of about 70 kg. With this amount of WGU, the number of nuclear weapons equivalent has a distribution with a median of 12 nuclear weapons equivalents and a standard deviation of about four. The slightly skewed distribution is: If the WGU were used in crude fission weapons without any plutonium, then North Korea would likely need less than a “significant quantity” (SQ) of WGU. The SQ is technically defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as the “approximate amount of nuclear material for which the possibility of manufacturing a nuclear explosive device cannot be excluded.” In the case of WGU, which is 90 percent enriched in the isotope uranium-235, a SQ is 25 kg of uranium 235 in 27.8 kg of WGU. How much less is unclear, but 15-25 kg of WGU per weapon would likely include many possible weapons designs. Over time, the North would likely learn to use less WGU per weapon of a fixed explosive yield, and in later future projections, the lower part of the range will be weighted as more likely. Using Crystal Ball™ software to perform the calculation, the median estimate of Scenario 1 is about 240 kg of weapons-grade uranium through 2014, with a standard deviation of about 70 kg. With this amount of WGU, the number of nuclear weapons equivalent has a distribution with a median of 12 nuclear weapons equivalents and a standard deviation of about four. …Nuclear weapons can be made from either plutonium or WGU or both combined. To give an indication of the potential number of nuclear weapons equivalent possible, the number of WGU- and plutonium-based nuclear weapons are added independently. The resulting distribution has a median of 22 nuclear weapons equivalent and a standard deviation of 4.5. …Again, it is assumed that only about 70 percent of the total amount of plutonium and WGU is used in nuclear weapons. Applying this assumption, North Korea would have approximately 15 nuclear weapons with a standard deviation of 3 weapons as of the end of 2014. The number of weapons made from plutonium is estimated at approximately 7 and the number made from WGU is about 8.4, where the latter value is represented as 8-9 weapons. Once again, using Crystal Ball™ software to perform the calculation, the median estimate of Scenario 2 is about 100 kg of weapons-grade uranium through 2014, with a standard deviation of 15 kg. With this amount of WGU, the number of nuclear weapons equivalent has a distribution with a median of 5 nuclear weapons and a standard deviation of about one. …As discussed above, nuclear weapons can be made from either plutonium or WGU or both combined. To give an indication of the potential number of nuclear weapons equivalent possible, the number of WGU- and plutonium-based nuclear weapons are added independently. The resulting distribution has a median of 15 nuclear weapons and a standard deviation of 2. …Again, it is assumed that only about 70 percent of the total amount of plutonium and WGU is used in nuclear weapons. Applying this assumption to the Scenario 2 distribution, North Korea would have approximately 10-11 nuclear weapons with a standard deviation of about 1.4 weapons as of the end of 2014. The number of weapons made from plutonium is estimated at approximately 7 and the number made from WGU is about 3.5. In the latter case of 3.5 weapons, partial nuclear weapons are of course not possible, and the result is represented as 3-4 weapons. Over the next several years, North Korea could pursue quantitative and qualitative improvements in its nuclear weapons stockpile. This section lays out a set of projections through 2020 that capture the boundaries of North Korea’s possible nuclear arsenal futures. …• Low-End Projection through 2020: Progress is slow as economic and technical constraints are numerous (including no further nuclear tests); difficulties are encountered in advancing current nuclear efforts and the North’s political commitment wanes. • Medium Projection through 2020: This projection assumes moderate growth based on a continuation of its current nuclear trajectory and development practices as well as political and economic commitment. The program is a mixture of successes and failures. Efforts to acquire technology/assistance from abroad make slow progress as does Pyongyang’s effort to achieve self-sufficiency. • High-End Projection through 2020: The general assumption underlying this projection is that nuclear weapons progress is steady and successful. North Korea steps up its commitment to build a nuclear arsenal, vigorously pursues technology development through, in part, increasing the number of nuclear tests and faces few economic constraints. Pyongyang also achieves a high level of success in acquiring technology/assistance from abroad as well as in achieving self-sufficiency. Low-End Projection through 2020 North Korea’s production of fissile material is limited to the 5 MWe reactor and centrifuge plant at Yongbyon. It either does not or cannot militarize the ELWR to make weapons-grade plutonium. The centrifuge plant is limited to 3,000-4,000 P2-type centrifuges, and North Korea does not deploy any more advanced than the P2-type. Moreover, the North will need to produce LEU for the ELWR. The centrifuges operate with poor efficiency, as they have done up through 2014.12 The 5 MWe reactor will experience outages and poor operational efficiencies, limiting production to an average of 2-3 kg per year of weapons-grade plutonium. In this scenario, Pyongyang does not conduct any further nuclear tests. Nonetheless, it would make limited advances in its nuclear weapons skills and designs, such as achieving some additional miniaturization of warheads without sacrificing the explosive yield. However, the North would not be able to reduce the amount of plutonium or WGU needed in a nuclear weapon. Marginal improvements would be made in the safety, security and reliability of its nuclear weapons. Finally, without testing there would be limits to developing more advanced weapons. The North would be limited in using shells of fissile material or other shapes for the core that would permit significant additional miniaturization. It would be unable to develop boosted or thermonuclear weapons as well as a reliable source of tritium for thermonuclear devices. North Korea’s arsenal would be limited to fission-only weapons made from either plutonium or WGU. The explosive yields would not be high, likely on order of 10 kilotons. Its arsenal would involve a small number of weapon designs, or physics packages, and they would be adapted to various delivery systems, such as the Nodong and possibly longer-range missiles. While Pyongyang will require foreign goods for its various nuclear programs, such as vacuum equipment, pumps, instrumentation, sophisticated computer-numerical control (CNC) machine tools and specialized chemicals and metals, it will experience difficulty procuring them. These procurement challenges will reduce the efficiency of its centrifuges and 5 MWe reactor. Moreover, the North will not succeed in procuring nuclear weapons data or designs overseas that would help further modernize its stockpile. Any nuclear cooperation with other countries—such as Iran—would be minimal and achieve few results. By 2020, North Korea would modestly increase the size of its nuclear arsenal, which would be comprised of fission weapons with explosive yields of about 10 kilotons. Miniaturization would allow the North to mount nuclear weapons on ballistic missiles but limited to existing types like the Nodong and a Taepodong deployed as an ICBM. Each weapon would be made from either separated plutonium or weapons-grade uranium. The stockpile would not include any composite cores or thermonuclear nuclear weapons. To derive the total amounts of plutonium and weapons-grade uranium through 2020, the amounts of plutonium and weapons-grade uranium produced through 2014 under Scenario 2 (one centrifuge plant) are added to the values from the period 2015-2020, where the assumptions above are used to derive inventories in the latter period with the Crystal Ball™ software. The median of the total plutonium estimates through 2020 is 50 kg with a standard deviation of 2 kg. The median of the WGU estimate through 2020 is 280 kg with a standard deviation of 60 kg. Assuming that each weapon contains either plutonium or WGU, the median of the number of nuclear weapon equivalents is 29 with a standard deviation of 5.13 About half of these weapons contain plutonium and half contain WGU. From 2014 through 2020, the number of weapon equivalents grows at an average rate of about 2.3 weapons equivalent per year. Only a percentage of plutonium and WGU is used in the actual weapons—some will be tied up in the manufacturing process, lost to waste, or held in a reserve. In the low-end projection, with about 70 percent of the plutonium and WGU used in the weapons, the DPRK’s total arsenal will consist of approximately 20 fission nuclear weapons at the end of 2020. Medium Projection through 2020 North Korea operates the 5 MWe reactor reasonably well, producing an average of about 3-4 kg of weapons-grade plutonium per year. The ELWR is partially militarized and makes a moderate amount of weapons-grade plutonium—5 to 10 kg—each year. The plutonium from the ELWR will become available starting in 2018. North Korea operates two centrifuge plants limited to a total of 6,000-7,000 P2-type centrifuges throughout this period. Moreover, the Yongbyon plant will need to produce LEU for the ELWR. The centrifuges will continue to work with relatively poor efficiency, but better than in the low-end projection.14 North Korea will conduct development work on a centrifuge similar to the Pakistani P3-type centrifuge, which has four maraging steel segments and three bellows, giving an output double the P2-type centrifuge. Nonetheless, during this period the North does not deploy any advanced centrifuges. In this scenario, North Korea conducts nuclear tests at its current rate of about one every 3-4 years. Advances are made in nuclear weapons development skills and designs, such as achieving additional miniaturization of warheads without sacrificing explosive yield. The North makes progress in using shells of fissile material instead of solid core designs and developing non-spherical shapes of the plutonium or WGU core, allowing further miniaturization. However, it does not reduce the amount of plutonium or WGU needed in a weapon. Improvements are also achieved in the safety, security and reliability of the North’s stockpile. The North develops and deploys an additional weapon design that contains plutonium and weapons-grade uranium in the same core, allowing a significant increase in the weapon’s explosive yield up to 50 kilotons. Fission weapons with either plutonium or weapons-grade uranium will remain the majority of its stockpile. However, their yields are larger on average, in the range of 10-20 kilotons, another benefit of continued nuclear testing and advances in design skills. By the end of 2020, advances in miniaturization will result in a stockpile of warheads that can be deployed on missiles of various ranges beyond those in the low-end projection, including shorter-range ballistic missiles for battlefield use or more modern intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) and ICBMs such as the Musudan and KN-08 road-mobile missiles. In addition, Pyongyang will develop a more advanced nuclear weapon design although it will not be fully tested or deployed by 2020. It will develop a reliable but small source of tritium and deuterium. Both could be used to boost the explosive yield of a fission weapon and to achieve a one-stage thermonuclear weapon, which uses tritium, deuterium and lithium within a composite core of plutonium and weapons-grade uranium. The North will be able to test these designs, likely with a reduced yield because of test site limitations. North Korea will continue to require foreign goods for its various nuclear programs but will experience only mixed success in procuring them. Progress will be made in producing some key materials and equipment domestically. Nonetheless, overseas procurement failures will reduce the efficiency of its centrifuges, reactors, and nuclear weapons program, but not as severely as in the low-end projection. While the North will not succeed in procuring nuclear weapons data or designs overseas, it will benefit from limited nuclear cooperation with Iran, which will aid Pyongyang’s centrifuge program and procurement efforts. By 2020, North Korea would increase the size of its nuclear arsenal several fold. The arsenal would consist of mostly fission weapons with explosive yields of about 10-20 kilotons. Several will have composite cores. These weapons could be mounted on a wide range of delivery systems. The total amounts of plutonium and weapons-grade uranium is based on the amount of plutonium and weapons-grade uranium produced through 2014 under Scenario 1 (two centrifuge plants) added to the values from the period 2015-2020, where the assumptions above are used to derive inventories in the latter period with Crystal Ball™ software. The median of the total plutonium estimates through 2020 is 80 kg with a standard deviation of 5 kg. The median of the WGU estimate through 2020 is 790 kg with a standard deviation of 105 kg. Assuming that each weapon contains either plutonium or WGU, the median of the number of nuclear weapon equivalents is 69 with a standard deviation of 8.15 About one-third of these weapons contain plutonium and two-thirds contain WGU. From 2014 through 2020, the number of weapon equivalents grows at an average rate of almost eight weapons equivalent per year. In this scenario, less fissile material is assumed to be tied up in-process or lost in waste than in the low-end estimate. In addition, some of the plutonium and WGU will be in nuclear weapons composite cores (say <5 weapons), reducing the total number of weapons as derived above, where each weapon is assumed to contain only plutonium or WGU. On balance, in the medium projection, the number of nuclear weapons is assumed to be about 75 percent of the nuclear weapons equivalent, giving an arsenal of about 50 nuclear weapons.High-End Projection through 2020 In this projection, North Korea operates the 5 MWe reactor efficiently, making use of overseas procurements that allow an increase in reactor power to 25 MWth and effective maintenance. The result is an average production of about 5-6 kg of weapons-grade plutonium per year. Pyongyang militarizes the ELWR, enabling it to produce more weapons-grade plutonium than in the previous scenario, 15-20 kg each year. Also, the plutonium would become available two years earlier, starting in early 2016. North Korea will operate two centrifuge plants with a combined 8,000-9,000 P2-type centrifuges. One will be the Yongbyon centrifuge plant with a capacity of 4,000 P2-type centrifuges starting at the beginning of 2015. The other will be an upgraded centrifuge plant at another location containing 4,000-5,000 P2-type centrifuges operating at this level in early 2015. As before, the Yongbyon centrifuge plant will need to produce LEU for the ELWR. The reactor will achieve higher capacity factors than in the medium scenario. The centrifuges will work with better efficiency than in the previous projections.16 Moreover, the North will complete development work on a new centrifuge similar to the Pakistani P3-type, with an output that is double that of the P2-type centrifuge. The first 2,000 P3-type centrifuges will become operational at the start of 2019. These centrifuges will be in addition to 8,000-9,000 P2-type centrifuges already in operation. Under this scenario, nuclear weapons tests are increased to a rate of one per year enabling the North to make significant advances in its nuclear weapons skills and designs. It develops smaller diameter, lighter-weight nuclear weapons able to fit an increasing variety of shorter range missiles for battlefield use. Pyongyang is able to make further reductions in the amount of plutonium and WGU used in a nuclear weapon. It makes significant improvements in the safety, security and reliability of its nuclear weapons, allowing nuclear weapons to be deployed more easily. As in the medium scenario, additional designs that contain plutonium and weapons-grade uranium in the same core are developed and deployed, allowing a significant increase in explosive yield up to 50 kilotons. The North also continues to field weapons with either plutonium or weapons-grade uranium, as in the two other projections. But in the high-end scenario, it increases the average yield of its fission weapons to 20 or more kilotons. While developing a reliable source of tritium and deuterium for nuclear weapons development, the North makes significant progress in using both to boost the explosive yield of a fission weapon. A new boosted yield design is tested and incorporated into a significant number of composite core weapons although the bulk of the stockpile remains centered on weapons using either plutonium or uranium. Pyongyang also develops a one-stage thermonuclear weapon, which uses tritium, deuterium and lithium within a composite core of plutonium and large quantities of weapons-grade uranium. One such device is tested by 2020, with a yield of about 100 kilotons. However, this one-stage weapon is too large for missile delivery, but North Korea is aiming to make it deployable as soon as possible. Work is done on designing and developing a two-stage thermonuclear weapon but not tested by 2020. North Korea will be very successful in procuring foreign goods for its various nuclear programs and will achieve greater self-sufficiency in making key materials and equipment domestically. Procurements, whether domestic or abroad, will be adequate and not interfere with the programs’ progress. Moreover, Pyongyang will succeed in procuring nuclear weapons data and an advanced weapon design overseas, making an important contribution to speeding up the North’s nuclear weapons developments. It cooperates actively with Iran on all nuclear areas, reducing inefficiencies in facilities and bottlenecks in procurements. By 2020, North Korea would increase the size of its nuclear arsenal many fold. The arsenal would still consist of mostly fission weapons but the explosive yields would average 20 kilotons or more, which is greater than in the medium estimate. Several will have composite cores and North Korea will be working to deploy one-stage thermonuclear weapons with yields of about 100 kilotons. With the exception of thermonuclear weapons, the North’s arsenal could be mounted on a wide range of delivery systems from short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) to the newer road-mobile Musudan IRBM to possibly the KN-08 ICBM currently under development. To derive the total amounts of plutonium and weapons-grade uranium through 2020, plutonium and weapons-grade uranium produced through 2014 under Scenario 1 (two centrifuge plants) are added to the values from the period 2015-2020, where the above assumptions are used to calculate inventories in the latter period. The median of the total plutonium estimates through 2020 is 154 kg with a standard deviation of 8 kg. The median of the WGU estimate through 2020 is 1,230 kg with a standard deviation of about 110 kg. Assuming that each weapon contains either plutonium or WGU, the median of the number of nuclear weapon equivalents is about 125 with a standard deviation of 13. About 40 percent of these weapons contain plutonium and 60 percent contain WGU. From 2014 through 2020, the number of weapon equivalents grows at an average rate of about 17 per year. In this projection, much less fissile material is assumed to be tied up in-process, lost to waste, or held in reserve than in the medium scenario. However, a couple factors reduce the number of weapons made from plutonium and WGU. An increased number of composite cores, namely 5-10, will contain plutonium and WGU, and one test of a single-stage thermonuclear device will have used several tens of kg of WGU. On balance, the number of nuclear weapons is taken as 80 percent of the nuclear weapons equivalent. The end result is an arsenal of about 100 nuclear weapons. In the medium and high-end scenarios, Pyongyang’s arsenal would be expected to grow at a faster rate, mainly due to production of more WGU. The increase would result from the deployment of more centrifuges, including more advanced ones. …After 2020, even in the medium scenario, North Korea is likely to deploy more advanced centrifuges. With greater numbers of centrifuges, including a growing fraction of more powerful ones, North Korea’s rate of WGU production would grow.North Korea’s nuclear weapons would likely become more sophisticated across the board in both the medium and high-end scenarios, as underground tests continue and the North’s nuclear weapons experience matures and grows. Particularly, in the high-end scenario, Pyongyang would be expected to deploy an increasing number of more accurate long-range missiles and a growing variety of shorter range battlefield weapons. It would also likely be able to finish developing and then deploying a one-stage thermonuclear weapon with a yield of about 100 kilotons. Also, it may make significant progress in developing two-stage thermonuclear weapons.” (David Albright, “Future Directions in the DPRK’s Nuclear Program: Three Scenarios for 2020,” Institute for Science and International Security, February 26, 2015)


2/27/15:
South Korea and the United States began joint naval maneuver drills as part of their annual spring Foal Eagle military exercise, the Navy said. It added the two allies will carry out the drill in South Korean territorial waters on the West, East and South seas until mid-March. “We expect to boost joint operational capabilities between Seoul and Washington and solidify a strong joint defense posture,” the Navy said in a statement. South Korea’s three naval fleets will mobilize their ships, including 4,400-ton KDX-II type destroyer, the Ganggamchan, as well as Lynx helicopters, P-3C patrol planes and Coast Guard boats. From the U.S. side, the USS Michael Murphy (DDG-112) destroyer and MH-60 Seahawk helicopters will take part. (Yi Whan-woo, “Seoul-Washington Begin Joint Naval Drill,” Korea Times, February 27, 2015)

President Park Geun-hye appointed spy agency chief Lee Byung-kee as her new chief of staff, wrapping up her reshuffle of key officials aimed at restoring public support for her reform drive. Lee, a former career diplomat, replaces Kim Ki-choon 10 days after Park accepted his resignation. Kim had been under pressure to quit as opposition parties accused him of exercising too much power in state affairs and personnel choices. Lee, one of Park’s closest aides, was tapped to lead the National Intelligence Service last year. Before this, he had served as South Korean ambassador to Japan. Park also named Lee Byung-ho, former deputy director of the NIS, as new head of the spy agency. (Cho Chung-un, “NIS Head Named New Chief of Staff,” Korea Herald, February 27, 2015) Reactions from those involved in politics were mixed. Some saw Park’s pick as a reflection of the public mood, with Lee seen as a rational presence who values communication. Others criticized Park for once again showing her reliance on a narrow recruitment pool by picking a longtime associate who had been in his NIS director position for just seven months. The circumstances suggest he was chosen late in the game as someone without major negative baggage on either the ruling party or opposition sides who was seen as capable of reaching out to the opposition and press, amid concerns that the previously considered candidates would only hurt public opinion further. Lee’s selection could mark a shift from Park away from a “directed” approach toward a more bureaucratic one, with the Cabinet given more weight in directing practical business. Sources acquainted with Lee’s style said his focus was more on overall administration and coordination — a contrast with predecessor Kim Ki-choon, who was known as a micromanager who insisted on handling matters himself. Kim’s departure as Chief of Staff also means he could be heading for Park’s loyalist Cabinet alongside Lee Wan-koo, who recently announced a “three strikes, you’re out” system for ministerial evaluations, and a host of other pro-Park ministers.Park may take advantage of Lee Byung-kee’s expertise in foreign affairs and security by assigning him a role in exploring potential changes in inter-Korean relations. The expectation is that the Blue House, which is in desperate need of third-year results, could assign economic and social service duties to the Cabinet while focusing itself on relations with Pyongyang, an area where short-term results are easier to produce. Supporting this prediction is the shift from a hawkish Chief of Staff with a background in public security prosecution to a relative “dove” who favors dialogue, coming fast on the heels of a new Unification Minister pick from the Blue House secretariat. As a replacement for Lee, 68, as NIS director, Park named Lee Byung-ho, 75, a former second deputy director with the Agency for National Security Planning, the NIS’s predecessor, under the Kim Young-sam administration. Kim Sung-woo, now a special presidential aide on society and culture, was tapped as senior Blue House secretary for public relations. A newly formed team of special presidential aides on political affairs was filled with key members of the National Assembly’s pro-Park wing, prompting even members of Park’s own ruling Saenuri Party (NFP) to worry that the perceived lack of communication in the President’s leadership will only worsen if the team represents only a particular faction’s perspective rather than a diverse range of opinions. (Seok Jin-hwan, President Park Names NIS Director as New Chief of Staff,” Hankyore, February 28, 2015)

The United States believes North Korea has already taken steps toward deploying the KN-08 road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile, feared to be capable of reaching American territory, the U.S. intelligence chief said Thursday. “Pyongyang is committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile that is capable of posing a threat to the United States and has publicly displayed its KN-08 road-mobile ICBM twice,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a statement for a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. “We assess that North Korea has already taken initial steps toward fielding this system, although the system has not been flight-tested,” he said. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Has Already Taken Steps toward Fielding KN-08: U.S. Intelligence Chief,” Korea Herald, February 27, 2015)

South Korea proposed talks with North Korea on the Kaesong Industrial Complex in mid-March, three days after the communist neighbor announced a unilateral decision to raise wages for its workers there by more than 5 percent. “If the North has a will for the development of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, it should stop unilateral acts and resolve pending problems through consultations between authorities,” ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol said in a statement. (Yonhap, “S. Korea Offers Talks with N. Korea on Kaesong Complex,” February 27, 2015)

Wendy Sherman: “I am one of the relatively few American diplomats who have negotiated directly with North Korea’s senior officials. In the process, I found first of all that those leaders do indeed follow international affairs closely, even though the lens through which they view events is narrow. Second, they would very much like to drive a wedge between America and our allies in Seoul and Tokyo, and even our relationship with China, but that’s not going to happen. Third, they see in Pakistan — a country whose nuclear program was first protested, then accepted — and hope to follow that example, which also isn’t going to happen. Fourth, they have known for many years that their economic model is a failure, but fear that opening up as China and Vietnam have done would entail too much political risk. Finally, the authorities in Pyongyang crave attention and respect, but they haven’t a clue about how to obtain either except through the threat of force. They are apparently under the illusion that the best way to conceal a weak hand is with a clenched fist. In the last quarter century, the contrast has widened between the prosperity generated by the South’s freedom and the hardships spawned by the North’s repression. Despite its bluster, the North’s strategy has failed utterly. Instead of gaining acceptance, the country is increasingly isolated. Instead of self-reliance — juche — it has lost strength from within. Instead of bold reforms, it has settled for ineffective steps that leave the majority of its citizens malnourished, saddled with obsolete technology, politically impotent, and eager to get out. It was suggested to me during my recent trip that by insisting on the goal of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, we are ensuring, because of Pyongyang’s stubbornness, that nothing will change. But that conclusion is simplistic. The fact is that a great deal is happening. The diplomatic pressure on North Korea continues to intensify. President Obama recently signed an executive order that authorizes new sanctions. In September, the IAEA General Conference unanimously condemned North Korea’s nuclear program, which China has exhibited unprecedented firmness in opposing. And late last year, the UN Security Council undertook a first-ever public review of the DPRK’s abysmal human rights practices. We all understand that the situation on the Korean Peninsula does not have a quick or simple solution. After all, U.S. troops have been deployed there for 65 years. But our resolve is undiminished and our patience to get to the right answer is inexhaustible. At the end of the day, North Korea cannot obtain the security, prosperity, or respect it wants without negotiating an end to its provocative nuclear and missile program.” … Q: Chris Nelson, Nelson Report. Thanks for a really comprehensive speech and thanks for the reminder that you have your days constantly enlivened by the Middle East and Iran and all kinds of things that us Asia-types tend to not to — we have that luxury, perhaps. You made some really interesting remarks about the North Korea policy. Those of us who only get to worry about North Asia I think are — find ourselves worried that we’re — we have the worst of both possible worlds. They are refusing to negotiate their nukes. We are saying because of that, we’re not going to negotiate a cap and a freeze, perhaps. Fifteen years ago, you were in the vanguard of the State Department people working really hard for a forward-leaning North Korea policy with some success. You’d had freezes on the nukes, and you were, as I recall, working on a missile freeze. What’s the difference then and now that we are not willing to try to cap the threat of proliferation and continued development? Why are we not doing that? Because we know they’re not going to negotiate their nukes, per se. That — it just — that confuses us. Perhaps you can clear that up, and then just quickly on the — you mentioned the economic reform program that seems to be underway. Are we going to encourage that and hope for a revolution of rising expectations, perhaps? Or are we going to hold back because of the nukes and continue a stronger sanctions policy? Does that contradict, in a sense, what we’re hoping for in the economic reform? So, the two questions. SHERMAN: Thank, Chris. Look, the policy that we have towards North Korea is one that we believe in but we also share with our partners, the five parties of the Six-Party process. Obviously, North Korea doesn’t quite share the strategy. And to that extent, we have all said to North Korea we are open to conversation, but the conversation is really about their nuclear program. And there are other things that can be discussed, of course, but at the core is the nuclear program. And China has consistently said that. I think, quite frankly, North Korea is rather irritated with China at the moment because the Chinese have been very clear about that. They have taken some unprecedented steps towards North Korea to make it clear what is expected here. We fully support President Park’s initiative to have bilateral discussions with North Korea. So far, North Korea has not agreed to that. There have been times when the Japanese have wanted and have had bilateral conversations, particularly around the ongoing concerns, which we certainly understand, of their abducted citizens. And we have been quite open to having a bilateral conversation with North Korea as long as denuclearization is understood to be a topic of those conversations. So I would say that the world has had an open door to North Korea to have talks, but this young leader has decided to take perhaps his father’s and his grandfather’s approach to a new level. It will be very interesting to see what happens this year. As I think everyone knows, the Russians have invited Kim Jong-un to Moscow for VE Day. We’ll see if he comes. We — he’s been invited other places as well. I think the entire world community understands that something has to give here, and that if there is a way to engage North Korea’s leader to deal with the security issues facing North Korea, if he ever wants to see his people have prosperity, that’s what it’s going to take. Because even trying to advance economic reforms inside the country will not get very far if all of the members of the Six-Party talks are putting pressure on North Korea to do what is necessary for the future of its own people.” (DoS, Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, “Remarks on Northeast Asia, Carnegie Endowment, Washington, February 27, 2015)

The sharp fall in global commodity prices is starting to have an impact on North Korea, economists say, hurting a state that relies heavily on exports of minerals to keep its economy afloat — and its gargantuan military funded. Combined with China’s economy coming off the boil, the recent slump in coal prices in particular could hurt Kim Jong-un’s “byungjin” policy: his stated desire to simultaneously develop North Korea’s economy and its nuclear weapons program. “Commodity prices are dropping, so it’s becoming more and more difficult for North Korea to earn foreign currency,” said Choi Kyung-soo, president of the North Korea Resources Institute in Seoul. “I think last year, minerals trade decreased by about 10 percent by volume and about 15 percent by price.” Mining makes up roughly 14 percent of the North Korean economy, which, although in a parlous state and under heavy financial sanctions, appears to have been growing modestly in recent years, when China still was booming and commodity prices still were surging. “North Korea is heavily reliant on commodities such as anthracite and iron ore for its export revenues, and just as it rode the resource boom to its apex in 2011, it is now the victim of a steady and steep decline in world prices,” said Kevin Stahler of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. The overwhelming majority of North Korea’s trade is with China and more than 70 percent of its exports to China are mining products, according to the Seoul-based Korea International Trade Association. The prices that North Korea can get from China for anthracite coal and iron ore, its main mineral exports, fell by 26 percent and 35 percent, respectively, between their peak in 2011 and last year, Stahler said in a recent note on the institute’s NK Witness blog. Furthermore, Beijing is trying to reduce China’s dependence on coal, and North Korea’s coal reportedly does not meet the new sulfur standards introduced to try to tackle China’s air pollution problems. All this is bad news for Kim, who has made industry a priority. In his New Year’s address, he said that improvements in a range of sectors, including coal mining, were “opening up bright prospects for the building of an economic giant and improvement of the people’s living standards.” Underlining the importance of mining in the North Korean economy, the Obama administration this year has slapped restrictions on North Korean officials working at North Korea’s Mining Development Trading Corporation, which Washington says is responsible for the country’s arms dealing and weapons export business, in the wake of the devastating cyberattack on Sony Pictures. This is in addition to the heavy restrictions on North Korea’s financial activities, which make it difficult to receive payments for its exports. But North Korea’s mining sector itself is not under sanctions; its trade in natural resources is legal. “There are very limited ways for North Korea to make money: selling weapons, smuggling and mining,” said Choi of the North Korea Resources Institute. “Because of sanctions, it’s very hard for them to make weapons or to sell [narcotic] drugs, so the only legitimate way for North Korea to make money these days is from selling minerals.” Selling mineral resources abroad doesn’t require any politically risky changes to the North Korean system, said Leonid Petrov, a Russian expert on North Korea who has been closely monitoring its mining activity. “The North Koreans are following the Russian pattern of development,” he said. “They don’t want any structural or institutional reforms, so the export of natural resources is perfect. They don’t need to make any major changes, and without changing anything they can exist for decades.” China is nevertheless investing heavily in the North Korean industry. Choi estimates that about 20 Chinese companies have invested in various North Korean mines, including a $500 million investment in the huge mining complex at Musan. “North Korea needs the infrastructure and China needs the minerals,” he said. Certainly, North Korea’s mining sector remains technologically backwards. “The technology hasn’t changed since the 1960s,” said Cha Ji-song, who worked at a copper and zinc mine in North Korea for 14 years, until he defected to South Korea three years ago. “Almost everything is still done by manual labor.” At the mine where Cha worked, in Hyesan on the Chinese border, white panels with red letters were fixed to the side of the mountain, blaring: “Long live General Kim Jong Il, the sun of the 21st century.” But thanks to Chinese investment, copper production at the Hyesan mine, which fell to barely 700 pounds a year in the late 1990s, rose to 1,500 tons by the time Cha escaped from North Korea in 2012. And although prices are not as good as they once were, experts say that North Korea is still sitting on a gold mine. It has significant deposits of more than 200 different minerals, including the second largest magnesite reserves in the world, after China, and the sixth-largest tungsten deposits, according to the United States Geological Service. North Korea has dramatically stepped up its production of molybdenum, a rare mineral that can be used in high-tech industrial production, including as an alloying agent in steel and cast iron, for corrosion resistance, and for radiation shielding. It could also be used in North Korea’s nuclear and conventional weapons programs. “They could use small quantities in high-tech weapons — but they are probably only using a small component for that,” said Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. an expert on North Korea’s weapons programs and chief analytical officer at AllSource Analysis, a consulting firm. “The primary objective is to earn foreign currency.” North Korea, thought to have huge reserves of molybdenum amounting to about 54,000 metric tons, has opened a huge new plant near the Chinese border to process the mineral. Satellite pictures and photos from official North Korean media show a huge open pit mine surrounded by production facilities, including a covered conveyor belt and refurbished rock crusher. North Korea also has huge stocks of “rare earth” metals, minerals that are sometimes called “the vitamins of the high-tech industry” because they are needed to make semiconductors and smartphones, although they can also be used in building tanks and missiles. SRE Minerals, a mining company in a joint venture with a North Korean state business, last year said it had discovered what is believed to be the largest deposit of rare earth elements anywhere in the world. All told, South Korea estimates the total value of the North’s mineral deposits at more than $6 trillion — more than enough, as one analyst puts it, to fund several more generations of leaders called Kim. (Anna Fifield, “Cash-Strapped North Korea Steps up Mining Output,” Washington Post, February 27, 2015)


3/1/15:
KPA General Staff spokesman’s statement: “The U.S. imperialists and south Korean puppet forces decided to kick off adventurous Key Resolve and Foal Eagle joint military exercises on March 2 despite strong protest and denunciation at home and abroad. The three services of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces have already been deployed in south Korea and its vicinity for these war maneuvers and huge forces of the south Korean puppet army, war servants of their master U.S., are fully ready for them. Involved there are the U.S. satellite forces including the UK, France, Australia and Canada. Key Resolve and Foal Eagle which will last till April 24 are dangerous nuclear war drills for invading the DPRK as they are aimed at swiftly hurling and forward-deploying the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces in contingency on the Korean peninsula, mounting a surprise preemptive attack on it by “combined forces”, “liquidating” the DPRK’s headquarters and “occupying Pyongyang.” The gravity of the situation lies in that these war exercises started in the wake of the recent undisguised declaration made by Obama, the chieftain of war of the U.S. imperialists, that it is the policy target of the USA to stamp out the ideology chosen by the DPRK and “bring down” its social system. In a word, Key Resolve and Foal Eagle are an undisguised encroachment upon the sovereignty and dignity of the DPRK and an unpardonable war hysteria of dishonest hostile forces. In the final analysis, the above-said saber-rattling clearly proves that the claim of the U.S. imperialists and their followers that the war maneuvers are of “defensive nature” is crafty sophism to conceal their reckless preemptive nuclear attack on the DPRK and their rhetoric about “annual drills” is nothing but a smokescreen to cover up their surprise invasion of the north. The situation on the Korean peninsula is again inching close to the brink of a war. In view of the prevailing situation the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army clarifies the following principled stand internally and externally: Now that the dangerous war drills of the U.S. imperialists and their followers have been kicked off, our revolutionary armed forces will never remain a passive onlooker to this grave situation. The DPRK had already declared before the world that as the Obama group is becoming all the more desperate in its smear campaign against the DPRK, the group is ratcheting up its harsh sanctions and pressure on the DPRK and its war drills against the DPRK are gaining in scope and strength, pursuant to its outrageous hostile policy towards the DPRK, the DPRK will take toughest measures to cope with them. Key Resolve and Foal Eagle go to prove that the U.S. extreme hostile policy towards the DPRK is being implemented through dangerous practical actions. The Korean People’s Army will never overlook the saber-rattling as its aggressive and offensive nature has been brought to light. Our revolutionary armed forces never make an empty talk. The U.S. imperialists and their allies should bear in mind that all the ground, sea, underwater, air and cyber striking means of our revolutionary armed forces always aim at their designated targets and are fully ready to strike them. They should clearly know that our revolutionary armed forces will never allow their slightest intrusion into the DPRK’s territory, territorial air and waters. The DPRK had already declared internally and externally its firm determination that it would bring earlier the final ruin of the U.S. imperialists and their allies by conventional war of Korean style if they unleash a conventional war against it, through powerful nuclear strikes of Korean style if they ignite a nuclear war against it and by preeminent cyber war of Korean style if they attempt to “bring down” it by cyber war. Our powerful revolutionary Paektusan army has bolstered up its weaponry to take revenge upon them for the last several decades to put its pledge into practice. Those drills are the most undisguised infringement upon the DPRK’s sovereignty and dignity and a grave military provocation to it for which they can never excuse. It is the consistent stand of our revolutionary armed forces that in case even a single shell drops on any place over which the sovereignty of the DPRK is exercised, it will promptly take counteractions. 3. The U.S. imperialists and their allies should clearly know that their outrageous and vicious aggressive actions being staged under the signboard of peace will never work on the DPRK in this bright world. It is the gangster-like U.S. that claims Key Resolve and Foal Eagle are aimed to “conquer” the capital city of the sovereign state and “liquidate” its headquarters but insists that they are “defensive and “annual” ones. The U.S. scenario is to make a unipolar world dominated by the USA and where U.S.-style democracy and market economy hold sway.The evermore undisguised military moves of the U.S. imperialists on the Korean peninsula and in its vicinity such as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle are not targeted on the DPRK only. It is the real intention of the U.S. expanded hostile policy toward the DPRK to lay a vast siege to the continent and let the Far East and the Asian continent allow the U.S. high-handed and arbitrary practices. The U.S. is seriously mistaken if it thinks such moves will work on the Korean peninsula and the rest of this bright world. The revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK will further bolster up weapons to annihilate the enemies as the U.S. imperialists become ever more ferocious in their aggressive nature, the south Korean puppet forces escalate confrontation with the fellow countrymen in the north to prolong their remaining days and dishonest hostile forces blindly follow them. The only means to cope with the aggression and war by the U.S. imperialists and their followers is neither dialogue nor peace. They should be dealt with only by merciless strikes. The DPRK’s revolutionary armed forces will sharply watch with a high degree of combat alertness the dangerous saber-rattling of the U.S imperialists and their followers. The U.S. imperialist aggressors, the south Korean puppet forces and their followers will have to bitterly regret the irretrievable consequences to be entailed by Key Resolve and Foal Eagle.” (KCNA, “KPA Will Never Remain Passive Onlooker to Key Resolve and Foal Eagle Exercises: Spokesman for KPA General Staff,” March 1, 2015)


3/2/15:
North Korea fired two short-range missiles into the East Sea in an apparent saber-rattling against annual military drills between South Korea and the United States, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. Seoul and Washington kicked off their joint annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military exercises earlier in the day as part of efforts to improve the combined forces’ operation and combat capabilities to deter threats from the communist country. “North Korea fired two short-range missiles with a range of some 490 kilometers into the East Sea from its western port city of Nampo between 6:32 a.m. and 6:41 a.m. today,” the JCS said in a short release. Factoring in its range, the missiles are presumed to be Scud-C ones, according to Seoul’s defense ministry, adding they appear to have landed in the East Sea after flying across its inland areas. Today’s firing is the North’s fourth missile launch this year. Noting that the firing “appears to be the North’s provocations in opposition to the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises,” the JCS said it “remains vigilant against any additional launches while strengthening the readiness posture.” In a statement later in the day the North’s foreign ministry vowed to step up its countermeasure, labeling the drills again as a plot to topple its socialist system: “The countermeasure of justice by our military and people will step up furthermore in order to shatter (the joint drills).” (Oh Seok-min, “N. Korea Fires Two Short-Range Missiles into East Sea,” Yonhap, March 2, 2015)

DPRK FoMin spokesman’s statement “in connection with the fact that the U.S. started with the south Korean puppet forces Key Resolve and Foal Eagle joint military exercises, war exercises for invading the DPRK, despite its repeated warnings: The drills to be staged across south Korea from March 2 to April 24 are said to involve huge U.S. forces in south Korea, the U.S. mainland, Japan and other overseas bases, south Korean puppet forces and massive war means including a U.S. coastal warship that was manufactured to suit the seabed features off the Korean peninsula. The exercises are intolerable aggression moves pursuant to the U.S. Korea strategy designed to “bring down” the socialist system chosen by the Korean people. By putting sustained military pressure on the DPRK the U.S. seeks to prevent it from concentrating efforts on economic construction and the improvement of the people’s living standard, and by describing those exercises as “annual and defensive ones”, it seeks to make the DPRK accustomed and get used to its war exercises and grow lax and then invade the DPRK in the end.The U.S. launch of the joint military exercises on the Korean peninsula in defiance of the unanimous protest and denunciation by people around it is prompted by a sinister trick pursuant to its pivot to Asia-Pacific strategy. Through the continued joint military exercises the U.S. intends to keep the south Korean puppet forces, its servants, close to it, stem the north-south relations from advancing and use the puppet forces as cannon fodder for besieging and containing surrounding countries. At the same time, the U.S. also seeks to keep the situation on the peninsula tense and maintain the pretext for arms buildup in the Asia-Pacific region. The joint military exercises this year have more provocative nature than ever before. The DPRK set forth bold and flexible proposals to remove the danger of war, defuse tension and create a peaceful environment on the Korean peninsula this year and has made sincere efforts for their realization. It clarified that in case the U.S. stops for the time being joint military exercises in and around south Korea, we have the willingness to respond to it with a moratorium on a nuclear test which the U.S. is much concerned about, and expressed the stand that we are always ready to sit with the U.S. at a negotiating table. But from the outset of the year the U.S. president personally declared “additional sanctions” against the DPRK and blustered that it will “bring down” the socialist system which the Korean people regard dearer than their own lives, and started the aggression war exercises with the south Korean puppet forces against the DPRK, thereby blatantly challenging the sincere proposals and efforts made by the DPRK. This has only brought to light the nature of the U.S. as the chief culprit escalating tension and harassing peace and the deceptive nature of its hypocritical talk about dialogue. The exercises have especially high possibility of causing a spark, given the grim situation and atmosphere caused by the U.S. and the south Korean puppet forces’ provocative anti-DPRK confrontational frenzy. Now that the U.S. has become all the more pronounced in its hostile policy toward the DPRK, bereft of reason, the army and people of the DPRK will take tougher counteraction of justice. As already declared, they are fully ready for any form of war which the U.S. wants and may opt and are full of the firm will to counter the enemies’ slightest provocation with the just great war for national reunification. In case a war breaks out on the Korean peninsula at last, the U.S. and the south Korean puppet forces can never evade consequences and responsibilities.” (KCNA, “FM Spokesman Denounces U.S.-S. Korea Joint Military Exercises,” March 2, 2015)

Rodong Sinmun: “Obama malignantly termed the DPRK the “most isolated, most sanctioned and most cut-off dictatorial state on earth” after proclaiming new “additional sanctions” against it through presidential executive order from the outset of the year. …There is no need to explain which is the most cut-off dictatorial state on earth.The U.S. outrageous and heinous state-sponsored politically-motivated terrorism against the DPRK is pursuant to its deep-rooted policy for stifling the DPRK. …After defining the DPRK as the enemy the U.S. has never recognized its sovereignty but escalated the hostile acts to bring down its social system. Much earlier than the spawning of the nuclear issue, institutional and legal mechanisms were set up against the DPRK and scenarios for military attacks and nuclear threats were undisguisedly worked out to bring down its ideology and social system. The U.S. has run the whole gamut of base plots to destroy the DPRK, while talking it has no “hostile intent.” This year the U.S. let loose a spate of invectives against the DPRK and set it a policy to bring down its social system, going busy with war maneuvers. This proves that the U.S. hostile acts against the DPRK have reached an extreme phase. Now that the U.S. imperialists try to stamp out the ideology of the DPRK and “bring down” its social system through provocative saber-rattling, the DPRK neither feels any need to sit at a negotiating table with them nor has any willingness to deal with them. It is necessary to settle accounts with those kicking up war hysteria while openly crying out for “collapse” of the DPRK only through resolute military reactions. This is the determination of the army and people of the DPRK.” (KCNA, “Rodong Sinmun Calls for Settling Accounts with U.S. through Military Reactions,” March 2, 2015)


3/2-24/15:
South Korea and the United States will conduct their annual joint military drills next month, the Combined Forces Command (CFC) said February 24, amid heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula following repeated threats against the exercises from North Korea. The computerized command post exercise, called Key Resolve, will be held from March 2-13 to improve the combined forces’ operation and combat capabilities to deter threats from the North, according to the CFC. The two-week war game will involve about 10,000 South Korean and 8,600 American troops to test various scenarios in which South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff plays a leading role in conducting operations. “It is important to maintain our high level of proficiency on key tasks while exercising different scenarios,” CFC commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti said in a statement. “Exercising our multinational force is an important component of readiness and is fundamental to sustaining and strengthening the alliance.” Separately, the allies are scheduled to hold the field training exercise Foal Eagle, which involves a set of land, sea and air maneuvers, from March 2 to April 24. Drawing attention is the participation of the USS Fort Worth, a 3,450-ton Freedom-class littoral combat ship (LCS), in the drill during its rotational deployment to the 7th Fleet. “It is the first time an LCS has trained with the South Korean Navy and 7th Fleet ships in Northeast Asia,” U.S. Naval Forces Korea spokesman Arlo Abrahamson said in a statement. “The exercise provides a great chance to increase our combined readiness, which ultimately contributes to greater stability for the region.” The combat ship, complete with surface warfare mission package capabilities including an MH-60R helicopter and Mark 110 57-millimeter gun, is capable of getting closer to shore than larger ships during diverse scenarios, which “brings speed, maneuverability and shallow draft to this exercise,” according to the U.S. navy. “Earlier in the day, the Military Armistice Commission of the United Nations Command informed North Korea about the exercise plan,” a CFC official said. “The North has not made any official response to it.” (Yonhap, “S. Korea, U.S. to Stage Annual Joint MilitaryDrills Next Month,” February 24, 2015)


3/3/15:
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong said that his country had the power to deter an “ever-increasing nuclear threat” by the United States with a pre-emptive strike if necessary. His rare speech at the U.N.-backed Conference on Disarmament drew a rebuke from U.S. Ambassador Robert Wood, who urged Pyongyang to stop making threats and rid itself of nuclear weapons. Ri said joint military exercises currently being staged by South Korea and the United States were “unprecedentedly provocative in nature and have an especially high possibility of sparking off a war.” “The DPRK cannot but bolster its nuclear deterrent capability to cope with the ever-increasing nuclear threat of the U.S.,” he told the Geneva forum. “Now the DPRK has the power of deterring the U.S. and conducting a pre-emptive strike as well, if necessary.” (Stephanie Nabehay, “North Korea Warns U.S. about Preemptive Strike ‘If Necessary,’” Reuters, March 3, 2015)

KCNA: “Ri Su Yong, foreign minister of the DPRK, made a speech at the Geneva Conference on Disarmament on March 3. He said: Overall disarmament process remains deadlocked contrary to expectations of the member countries. Arbitrary and double-dealing attitudes of some countries bring about negative consequences of sparking off an arms race, far from seeking genuine disarmament negotiations based on mutual trust among member countries. The NPT was adopted at the disarmament talks in the last century but nuclear disarmament was not completely realized. Consequently, the nuclear map of the world today has significantly changed. Less people in the media and academic circles pay attention to this issue. If the CD fails to sufficiently play its role any longer, the issue of nuclear disarmament may disappear from the UN agenda once and for all. The Korean peninsula is a nuclear arsenal as the world’s largest nuclear weapons state and the youngest nuclear weapons state are technically at war. The Korean peninsula may be called a ground showcasing the consequences proving that a nuclear weapons state failed to keep promise made to non-nuclear state at a time when the NPT was adopted. Instead of providing assurances of non-use of nukes against the DPRK which acceded to the NPT in 1985, the U.S. has not de-escalated its nuclear threat to Pyongyang at all but further increased it.The hostile policy of the U.S. towards the DPRK for over half a century, not just a few years, compelled the DPRK to have access to nukes. The DPRK cannot but bolster its nuclear deterrent capability to cope with the ever-increasing nuclear threat of the U.S. The DPRK’s future counteraction will depend on whether the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy toward the DPRK or not. As long as Korea remains divided, lasting peace on the Korean peninsula and the regional security cannot be ensured. When Korea is reunified, it will definitely help realize the cherished desire of the nation and, at the same time, will be a decisive contribution to the peace and security on the Korean peninsula and, furthermore, those in Northeast Asia where the interests of big powers clash. The DPRK will not spare its sincere efforts to bring about a great change in the inter-Korean relations this year.

The government of the DPRK expresses conviction that CD will pay due attention to the situation on the Korean peninsula and give support for the efforts to ease the tension.” (KCNA, “DPRK Foreign Minister Urges U.S. to Roll Back Its Hostile Policy toward DPRK,” March 6, 2015)

North Korea appears prepared to fire medium-range Nodong ballistic missiles amid heightened inter-Korean tensions over the ongoing South Korea-U.S. military exercises, a source here said. “We’ve detected signs that North Korea has deployed two transporter erector launchers (TELs) since a few days back in its Nodong missile station in North Pyongan Province,” the military source said. “We are closely monitoring their movements bearing in mind chances of their actual launches.” North Korea last fired two Nodong missiles last March using the launchers, the first launch in nearly five years. The single-stage ballistic missile has an estimated range of 1,300 kilometers with a payload capacity of 700 kilograms, according to South Korea and U.S. intelligence. “It would not be easy for us to detect missiles in a swift manner in case they are fired from a mobile launcher,” said a military officer, saying the authorities have been operating the crisis management system against possible military provocations by the North. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Ready to Fire Nodong Medium-Range Missiles: Military Source,” March 5, 2015)

North Korea has reopened its borders to tourists and lifted strict quarantine measures after four months. “According to Air Koryo, everything is back to normal!” U.S.-based Uri Tours said. (AFP, “North Korea Reopens Borders after Ebola Travel Ban,” March 3, 2015)


3/4/15:
U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert needed 80 stitches to his face after being slashed by a North Korea sympathizer demanding an end to joint U.S.-South Korea military drills. Kim Ki-jong was born in 1959, according to the website of his “Our Square” activist group. The group wants the U.S. to withdraw troops from South Korea and sign a peace treaty with North Korea to replace the 1953 truce that ended the Korean War, echoing the demands of the regime in Pyongyang. He received a suspended jail term in 2010 for throwing a lump of concrete at the Japanese ambassador; and in 2007, he set himself on fire near the presidential Blue House office to demand the reopening of an investigation into the 1988 rape of a fellow group member, according to South Korea’s CBS News. He visited the North Korean border city of Gaeseong eight times in 2006 and 2007 to participate in a tree-planting project, according to a Unification Ministry official, who asked not to be named. (Sam Kim and Rose Kim, “U.S. Envoy to South Korea Needed 80 Stitches after Knife Attack,” Bloomberg, March 4, 2015) KCNA called the attack “deserved punishment.” The dispatch, titled “Deserved punishment for warmonger United States,” said the assailant, Kim Ki-jong, gave a “knife shower of justice” to the envoy in a reflection of South Korean public sentiment that condemns the U.S. for raising tensions on the Korean Peninsula through joint military exercises with Seoul. (Yonhap, “N.K. Hails Attack on U.S. Envoy to Seoul,” March 5, 2015) The man who attacked Lippert is a fringe political activist with a history of violence, and he acted alone. “We are looking broadly and deeply into whether there was a behind-the-scenes force at home and abroad,” Yun said. He said Kim visited North Korea seven times from 1999 to 2007. But those visits were approved by the South Korean government and took place during a period when many South Koreans, including government officials, journalists and scholars, were allowed to visit the North under Seoul’s “Sunshine Policy” of encouraging exchanges and reconciliation. Kim was among a small minority of progressives in South Korea who tried to build a funeral altar at the center of Seoul to encourage South Koreans to express condolences over the death of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in late 2011. The progressives said such a gesture would help promote reconciliation with the North, but their attempt crumbled in the face of protest from conservative South Koreans, who denounced them as “jongbuk,” or North Korean sympathizers. As the police raided Kim’s home, the government of President Park Geun-hye and her Saenuri Party called his act, which took place as Lippert was about to give a speech this morning, “terror against the South Korean-United States alliance” and called for an inquiry into whether “behind-the-scene forces” had been involved in the attack. That raised fears among progressives that conservatives would use the attack to suppress dissidents. (Choe Sang-hun, “South Korea Says Attacker of U.S. Ambassador Acted Alone,” New York Times, March 6, 2015, p. A-6) Korean politics is falling into yet another ideological spat as the ruling party blames North Korea sympathizers as being connected to last week’s knife attack on the top American diplomat here, while the main opposition accuses its rival of political demagoguery. Washington has shown a relatively subdued stance about the attack on Ambassador Mark Lippert, viewing the incident as an attack by a radical individual. Yet, right-wingers in Seoul called the attack an act of terrorism triggered by pro-North Korea forces, sparking a confrontation with those on the other side of the political spectrum. Capitalizing on the worsening public opinion against extremist activists with ties to Pyongyang, the Saenuri Party has called for “driving out” pro-North Korean forces and criticized the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy for having sided with Pyongyang sympathizers in the past. On March 9, Saenuri spokesperson Park Dae-chul called the NPAD a onetime “host of pro-North Korean forces,” prompting a strong protest from its rival party. Park said, “It is the time for the NPAD to write a letter of repentance.” The NPAD, which had remained cautious to fend off any fallout from the attack by an ultra-left activist, countered the Saenuri’s offensive, arguing that the ruling party has been politically exploiting the incident and fanning a hackneyed ideological dispute concerning the communist state. “The U.S. did not use the word ‘terrorism’ when referring to the incident. It instead used the word ‘attack,’ and has showed a calm, reserved response to it,” said NPAD Rep. Jung Chung-rae during a meeting with senior party officials. “The ruling party should refrain from making remarks that undermine national interests and get out of its excessive ideological campaign to blame pro-North Korean forces.” NPAD Rep. Oh Young-sik said, “The Saenuri Party’s chronic illness of a campaign against pro-North Korean forces has re-emerged. Such old-fashioned moves ahead of an election (the April by-election) should be stopped.” (Song Sang-ho, “Attack Reopens Political Divide,” Korea Herald, March 10, 2015)

Andrea Berger: “The 2015 PoE [UN Panel of Experts] report explores North Korea’s global proliferation network through an extensive investigation into the operations and sanctions-evasion tactics of Ocean Maritime Management (OMM), the firm that facilitates shipping and logistics for Pyongyang’s proliferation-related activity. Details of OMM’s actions after it was designated by the Security Council in 2014 show how quickly the network adapted to the new constraints by re-naming and re-registering its vessels. Information on the company’s overseas offices shows that it rarely registers in countries where it operates, that its representatives embed with other corporations to avoid detection and that it cooperates actively with DPRK diplomatic representatives stationed abroad to facilitate illicit transactions. Space constraints do not permit me to recount their insights as fully as is deserved, so a full read of the report is recommended. The report also focuses on the DPRK’s procurement of foreign components for its nuclear and missile programs, as well as for its conventional defense industrial pursuits. This is by no means a new phenomenon. For example, a 2003 Wall Street Journal article outlined how a North Korean couple in Bratislava was actively procuring goods from around the world in support of a North Korean missile project in Egypt. More recently, the PoE’s 2014 report shed light on the foreign components that the DPRK uses in its domestic programs, specifically in the Unha-3 space launch vehicle launched in December 2012. This year’s report offers yet more evidence of the difficulties in identifying and preventing exports of arms-related material to the DPRK and the consequences of failing to do so. Members of the PoE investigated North Korean unmanned aerial vehicles that crashed in South Korea, and found a number of parts sourced in counter-proliferation active countries such as Canada, the United States, Switzerland, South Korea and Japan. In short, the report offers a sobering reminder that, despite the existence of sanctions, North Korean proliferation networks have proven themselves to be adept at circumventing them, quick to adapt to new constraints imposed against them, and resourceful in their quest to source and ship the goods they need. In most cases, the counter-proliferator is likely to continue playing catch-up. The report outlines the ways in which North Korean activity has exploited the grey areas of the sanctions regime. Four examples are identified below. The first relates to North Korean participation in the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, “an international intergovernmental scientific research organization” based in Russia that was founded in 1956. North Korea is one of its 18 Member States, while most of the others are former Soviet republics. According to the Institute’s website, “[T]he main fields of JINR’s activity are theoretical and experimental studies in elementary particle physics, nuclear physics, and condensed matter physics.” Responding to inquiries from the PoE, the Institute affirmed that four North Koreans are currently working there: one at the Flevrov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions’ Scientific and Experimental Physical Department, one at the Laboratory of Information Technologies, and two at the Laboratory of Nuclear Problems. In addition, representatives of the North Korean Embassy in Moscow recently took part in the Institute’s Scientific Council and the Committee of Plenipotentiaries. In defense of these activities, the Institute argued that it is an international organization, conducting research with exclusively peaceful applications, and that no North Korean individuals designated by the Security Council were involved. In addition, representatives from 16 non-nuclear weapons states participate in the Institute’s activities without inciting any concern that their research is proliferation-sensitive. On the other hand, North Korea has been repeatedly instructed by the Security Council to abandon its entire nuclear program and related activities, peaceful or otherwise. So is offering Pyongyang an outlet to conduct peaceful nuclear research a violation of the letter and spirit of the sanctions regime? And if so, who is responsible for that breach when the host is an international organization? Unmanned Aerial Vehicles In 2014, three North Korean unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) crashed in South Korea after flying reconnaissance missions over military facilities. Examination of the debris did not determine whether the vehicles were North Korean or foreign made. Either way, these incidents suggest that Pyongyang is likely to continue to incorporate unmanned aerial systems into its operations. Seoul has flagged this practice as a potential sanctions issue and has “notified the Panel that the supply, sale or transfer of these unmanned aerial vehicles and of their components could constitute a violation of paragraph 10 of resolution 1874 (2009) prohibiting the supply, sale, or transfer of all arms related materiel [to the DPRK].” Current Category 1 restrictions forbid the sale to North Korea or purchase from it of “complete unmanned aerial vehicle systems (including cruise missile systems, target drones and reconnaissance drones) capable of delivering at least a 500 kg payload to a range of at least 300 km.” The shorter range of the three crashed drones means they did not fall into that category, but Seoul appears to believe that they should still be considered “arms-related” and therefore subject to sanctions. This is a point that will likely be debated in the United Nations and outside of it in coming months. “Arms-Related” Training ServicesIn the past two years, Uganda has drawn considerable attention for its curious military partnership with North Korea. High-level delegations from Pyongyang were warmly welcomed in Kampala, most recently in October 2014. Uganda explained that its military ties to North Korea are transparent and benign, and centered on training for security forces and the provision of non-lethal equipment. Specific forms of training were previously said to include: martial arts, marine rescue, and “security and technical training courses for the Ugandan Police Special Force, Police Construction Unit, Criminal and Forensic Investigation.” It is uncertain whether the Sanctions Committee would consider any of this activity to be a violation of sanctions, as North Koreans were allegedly not training their Ugandan counterparts in the use of lethal arms. Instead, their cooperation would have occupied yet another grey area. However, the proximity of the DPRK-Ugandan cooperation to the boundaries of the sanctions regime did raise doubts that this was all that there was to the relationship. The new PoE report confirms those suspicions. In December 2014, Uganda responded to the PoE’s inquiries stating, “Field Force Unit Training carried out by Democratic People’s Republic of Korean instructors at the police training schools at Kabalye, Masindi and Butiaba, Wantembo (both former military bases) included training on the use of AK-47s and pistols. The training for the Marine Police Unit included sharp shooting.” Other forms of training such as martial arts may have taken place along the lines of Uganda’s earlier suggestions. However, the PoE expressed its belief that training specifically related to lethal weapons would be a breach of Security Council Resolution 1874. Since that training is ongoing, Uganda appears to still be violating sanctions. Unfortunately, the PoE did not address these previous ambiguities. It refrained from commenting on the legality of purchasing non-lethal weapons from North Korea (such as tear gas guns), or contracting Pyongyang to provide training in their use or in combat tactics. Questions about this issue may therefore arise again in the future, particularly if in response to the PoE report, Uganda now ceases only the types of activities that have been explicitly called out. Commercial vs. Non-Commercial Luxury Goods Transactions Dennis Rodman may be a subject of confusion for many, but the Sanctions Committee has not been among them. On his most recent visit to Pyongyang, Rodman imported whisky, crystal glassware and a Mulberry handbag as gifts for Kim Jong-un and his family. Some of the gifts were likely considered ‘luxury goods’ for the purposes of sanctions against North Korea. However, Ireland (the location of Paddy Power, Rodman’s sponsor) concluded that the “one-off” transaction was not a “commercial transaction” and therefore was not a sanctions violation. This raises questions as to whether or not the luxury goods ban exempts gifts or applies only to “commercial” deals. A few miscellaneous points of interest are worth noting when reading the report: North Korea recently had Reconnaissance General Bureau operatives stationed in UNESCO and the World Food Programme. France allegedly possesses evidence that they were involved in activities relevant to sanctions resolutions. In February 2014, DPRK officials were caught travelling back to North Korea via Southeast Asia with suitcases containing $450,000 in cash payment for an arms deal. The role of officials and diplomatic personnel in facilitating payment is also illustrated by a 2008 Republic of Congo deal, in which Embassy officials were confirmed to have been responsible for receipt of payments and customs clearance. The PoE compared the North Korea-Cuba and North Korea-Congo military relationships. In doing so, they mentioned that part of the contract between North Korea and Cuba involved Pyongyang providing “technical assistance.” In other words, the North Korea-Cuba military relationship was not merely a case of North Korea sourcing arms and related material, as was apparent with the Chong Chon Gang incident in 2013. Havana appeared to be receiving arms-related services from Pyongyang as well. The PoE concluded that vessels controlled by the designated entity Ocean Maritime Management (and its various incarnations) are included within the sanctions definition of ‘assets.’ Member States are therefore obliged to “freeze” such assets, in accordance with the definition supplied by the Financial Action Task Force, as a matter of practice. This may be a difficult measure for Member States to stomach, as its implementation could involve a large burden on local authorities.” (Andrea Berger, “Further Shades of Grey: North Korea Sanctions and the 2015 UN Panel of Experts Report,” 38North, March 4, 2015)


3/5/15:
A North Korean diplomat was caught with 27kg of gold by Bangladeshi authorities at the Hazrat Shahjalal International airport in Dhaka, according to customs officials. “We recovered the gold both in the form of bar and ornaments from Son Young Nam, the First Secretary of the North Korean Embassy in Dhaka,” Moinul Khan, the Director General of the Custom Intelligence department, told Reuters. According to local reports 19kg of the gold was in the form of 170 bricks while the other 8kg were made up of ornaments. Reuters placed the value of the haul at $1.4 million. Although regular checks are relatively rare for passengers passing through the green channel, customs officials searched Son following a “tip off,” local media said. “We stopped him on a secret tip off as he tried to go out of the airport through the green channel,” Kazi Mohammad Zia Uddin, the Joint Commissioner of Customs, told reporters. In September 2014, Moinul had told various media outlets that customs authorities at Bangladesh’s two main airports had seized over 600kg of gold since July 2013, up from 15kg over the previous five years. (Hamish MacDonald, “North Korean Diplomat Caught Smuggling 27 Kg of Gold into Bangladesh,” NKNews, March 6, 2015)


3/6/15:
South Korea needs to think more carefully about how to “balance” its relations with the United States and China, the outgoing South Korean ambassador to China said Friday, warning that China’s “assertive diplomacy” could put Seoul in a dilemma. While South Korea has repeatedly stressed the importance of Seoul-Washington ties, analysts say China’s rise could put South Korea in a strategic dilemma amid possible conflicts of interests between the U.S. and China in Northeast Asia. “Although Korea-China and Korea-U.S. relations are not said to be a ‘zero-sum game,’ there could be a situation where we are forced to make a choice between the two relations,” Ambassador Kwon said. “So, we need to think more carefully about how to strike a balance between China and the U.S.,” Kwon said. Referring to “China’s rise” and “China’s assertive diplomacy,” Kwon said it is time for South Korea to pay more attention on its diplomacy with China. (Yonhap, “S. Korea Needs to ‘Balance’ Ties with U.S., China: Outgoing Envoy,” March 6, 2015)


3/8/15:
The leaders of North Korea and China may meet when their schedules are “convenient,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, signaling the possibility of a North Korea-China summit despite long-running standoffs over the North’s nuclear ambition. North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong-un, has yet to visit China since taking the helm of the reclusive state in late 2011. Asked whether North Korea’s Kim could visit China this year, Wang replied, “As to when our leaders will meet, we will have to see when it is convenient for both parties.” “The China-North Korea relationship has a strong foundation. It should not and will not be affected by temporary events,” Wang said. (Yonhap, “China Says Summit with N. Korea to Take Place When ‘Convenient,’” March 8, 2015)

Choe Ryong-hae, for some time North Korea’s de facto No. 2 official, has been demoted from the Politburo standing committee to ordinary membership in the Workers Party. Rodong Sinmun, reporting a party rally marking International Women’s Day, identified Choe by his new role. As recently as a party meeting on February 16 Choe was credited with the grander old title, which suggests he was demoted at on February 18. Choe, who ascended to the second-most powerful man after Kim Jong-un took office but has recently been eclipsed by military politburo chief Hwang Pyong-so. But not long earlier Choe himself had returned from a spot in the wilderness to assume his old role, firming suspicions that Kim Jon-un is playing a complex game of musical chairs at the top to prevent anyone ever amassing power like his late uncle. (Chosun Ilbo, “Kim Jong-un Keeps All Guessing Who’s in Favor,” March 10, 2015)


3/9/15:
A United Nations human rights investigator called for sustained international action to pressure North Korea into accounting for hundreds of foreign citizens it is believed to have abducted over several decades. Marzuki Darusman, the special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, urged “sustained and resolute action” by the international community aimed at “shedding light on all cases of abductions” and returning those still alive to their countries of origin. His report, on strategies for resolving those cases, is to be presented next week to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. North Korean agents abducted hundreds of foreign citizens from the 1960s to the 1990s, mostly from Japan, China and South Korea, the report states, but a commission of inquiry into North Korea’s human rights practices also recorded abductions of people from Lebanon, Malaysia, Romania, Singapore and Thailand, and possibly other countries.The Japanese authorities have identified 12 abducted citizens who still have not been returned to Japan, but they are investigating 881 other possible abductions, Darusman said. In view of the number of countries whose citizens are said to have been seized, “an international approach to the issue is now required,” he said in his report, urging the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly to take up the issue and recommending the convening of an international conference to address forced disappearances. (Nick Cuming-Bruce, “North Korea: U.N. Urges Action to Resolve Abductions,” New York Times, March 10, 2015, p. A-6)


3/12/15:
North Korea has test-fired seven ground-to-air missiles into the East Sea in an apparent saber-rattling against the South Korean-U.S. joint military exercises, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said March 13. Yesterday’s missile launch came a day before Seoul and Washington wrapped up their combined annual war game Key Resolve, which Pyongyang denounces as a rehearsal for invasion of the communist country. “The North Korean military fired multiple rounds of ground-to-air missiles into the East Sea from Seondok, South Hamkyong Province, at around 6-7 p.m. yesterday,” the JCS said in a brief statement. The JCS believes that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un guided the test-firing, a JCS officer said. “The mssiles fired were presumed to SA-2 and SA-3 types that have a range of dozens of kilometers as well as a SA-5 one that flew some 200 kilometers,” the officer said, adding it was the first time for the North to test-fire the SA-5 missile. Noting that the firing “appears to be the North’s provocations in opposition to the joint exercises,” the JCS said the South Korean military “has strengthened the readiness posture and plans to solidify the alliance through the exercises.” (Oh Seok-min, “N. Korea Fires 7 Ground-to-Air Missiles into East Sea: JCS,” Yonhap, March 13, 2015)


3/13/15:
North Korea and Russia discussed security issues over the Korean Peninsula and East Asia during their foreign ministerial meeting in Moscow, according to Russia’s Foreign Ministry. The meeting between Pyongyang’s top diplomat Ri Su-yong and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov came amid speculation that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may visit Moscow in May. (Yi Whan-woo, “N.K., Russia Discuss Security Issues,” Korea Times, March 15, 2015)

The textile factories producing “made in China” goods from compounds just across the Yalu River from North Korea offer a glimpse into a hidden world that is helping North Korea’s economy to thrive. Operated by North Koreans, the factories produce clothes and other goods that are exported under foreign-company labels, making it impossible to tell that they have been made with North Korean hands and have contributed to North Korean profits. The thriving operations belie the perception in Washington that U.S. and international sanctions are working to strangle North Korea’s ability to make money. While an overwhelming majority of North Koreans live in poverty, the country’s output has been steadily increasing, and an estimate by South Korea’s Hyundai Research Institute forecasts that the North’s economy will grow this year by a whopping 7 percent. A lot of that growth comes through Dandong, a hive of North Korean and Chinese managers and traders, with middlemen helping them all cover their tracks. One local Chinese businessman estimates that one-quarter of this city’s population of 800,000 is involved in doing business with North Korea in some way. In one factory on a recent day, dozens of North Korean women sat under fluorescent strip lights sewing seams and pressing pockets on pants, some of which were destined for the United States. “They are here to make money for the country,” a North Korean factory manager said of the workers. This scene is repeated in dozens, perhaps hundreds, of labor compounds all along the border, which in effect is little more than a line on the map. The extensive range of commercial activity suggests that it would be wrong to think that China’s leadership is now so annoyed with Kim Jong-un, who took control of North Korea at the end of 2011 after the death of his father, that it is tightening the economic screws on the young leader next door. This is a very sensitive part of China — during a week of reporting along the North Korean border, Washington Post reporters were monitored by police — and doing business with North Korea is a very sensitive subject. The textile-factory manager would allow himself to be identified only as Kim; he and other North Korean businessmen who agreed to speak about their operations otherwise did so on the condition of anonymity for fear of jeopardizing their livelihoods. North Korea’s economy is still a basket case, barely more than one-fiftieth the size of South Korea’s. But in talking about the changes underway, the businessmen described a North Korean economy that is increasingly run according to market principles, where people want to be in business, not the bureaucracy, and where money talks. Kim, the textile manager, said he has no qualms about making pants to be worn by men going to work in “imperialist aggressor” countries such as the United States, South Korea or Japan — the three most hated enemies of his country. He was only interested, he said, in maximizing profits for Pyongyang, wherever they come from. “It doesn’t matter whether they’re an enemy country or not,” Kim said. In the clothing factory, the women work 13 hours a day, 28 or 29 days a month, and are paid $300 each a month — one-third of which they keep. The rest goes back to the government in Pyongyang. “Even though I want to pay them more, I have to send a certain amount home to my country, so this is all I can give them,” Kim said in his office at the factory. On his desk, an open laptop revealed that visitors had interrupted his game of solitaire. The women work on the third floor, wearing their coats inside to guard against the cold, and live on the second floor in shared, dormitory-style rooms decorated with a banner declaring, “Let’s realize the revolutionary ideas of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il” alongside portraits of the two former leaders, grandfather and father, respectively, of Kim Jong-un. Signs on the doors read, “Call each other comrade.” North Korea is thought to have at least 50,000 workers outside the country earning money for the regime, and 13,000 of them work in Dandong. This neon explosion of a city contrasts starkly with the North Korean city of Sinuiju, on the opposite bank of the river, where there is only a smattering of light at night. But there are signs of large-scale construction on the North Korean side: a half-completed apartment tower with a crane on the top and other new buildings underway. Although the traffic crossing the bridge between the two cities is far from jammed, it is constant. A steady flow of vans and container trucks, and the occasional black sedan with tinted windows, crossed in both directions over the course of a week. Passenger and freight trains ran regularly, carrying cargo such as steel bars for construction and unrefined gold dirt. Consumer goods go in the other direction. The most popular items to sell in North Korea these days are TV sets hooked up to solar panels — preferably with USB ports for watching smuggled dramas. Here, North Koreans are coming to grips with the fundamentals of capitalism, even if they still won’t use the term. Over dinner one night at a Chinese restaurant, another North Korean factory manager happily chatted about his corporate role models. Chief among them: the titans of South Korean conglomerates such as Samsung and Hyundai who propelled that country’s rapid economic transformation. What had he learned from those tycoons in the South? “Perseverance, the need to diversify,” said the businessman, who manages a factory that produces goods related to the construction industry and was sporting a Tissot watch. “We’re living in a world where new things keep appearing. Who would have thought Nokia would have collapsed? Their mistake was sticking with the same product.” He has absorbed some of these lessons from the outside world, describing steps he has taken to increase productivity at his factory — mainly by creating better working conditions so his employees want to work more — and boost his profits. This is emblematic of the tentative economic experimentation taking place since Kim Jong-un became leader. Reports from inside North Korea suggest that even state-run companies are increasingly operated according to market principles, with managers empowered to hire and fire workers — previously unimaginable in the communist nation — and conduct businesses the way they see best. There are frustrations here. The biggest one — literally — has to be the four-lane, $350 million New Yalu River Bridge, a huge steel structure that traverses the river from a glitzy urban development, Dandong New District. The whole development project is now on ice, partly because of the demise of Jang Song Thaek, the businessman and uncle of Kim Jong-un who was executed at the end of 2013, partly because of his “decadent capitalist lifestyle.” Since then, Jang’s colleagues have been recalled to Pyongyang or have disappeared — sometimes with millions of dollars in Chinese money, according to businessmen here. Beijing is clearly none too happy about this, and smaller Chinese operators also have complaints about dealing with North Korea. One Korean Chinese businessman named Ri who exports raw materials from North Korea said there are lots of “fraudsters” there. “Sometimes the North Korean takes the money, but then you can’t find the person,” he said. “As the middleman, I have to take responsibility for that. There are some people here who’ve committed suicide because they’ve lost everything.” A well-to-do Chinese couple who run an exporting business in Dandong — she was carrying a Chanel bag, he had an Armani sweater — could barely conceal their distaste for the state across the river. They used to export kitchen goods to North Korea but have stopped, saying it was too hard to make money there. Asked if they had seen signs that North Korea is opening up its economy, the woman said, “Oh, you’re so naive!” “I haven’t seen any signs of that,” her husband chimed in. “We built this whole new bridge, but North Korea hasn’t built anything.” But while the political chill between North Korea and China might have had an impact on state-level economic cooperation, and those who played in the big leagues with Jang might have been scared away, there are still plenty of small businessmen looking for — and finding — ways to make money. “These guys are out there to make a buck — they’re not the World Food Program — and as long as these opportunities exist, private, profit-seeking, market-conforming trade and investment will continue,” said Marcus Noland, an expert on the North Korean economy at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. Take Zhang, a Korean Chinese merchant who runs one of the 30 or so Chinese businesses in Dandong that ship fabric to North Korea to be turned into clothes there for European companies. Zhang said that he employs a few dozen people on the Chinese side of the border but that his workforce in North Korea fluctuates between 3,000 and 10,000 people, depending on how many orders he has. North Koreans are particularly good at painstaking, manual work such as lace-making and hand-stitched beadwork. He pulls out his smartphone and shows a photo of a blond woman wearing an intricately embroidered pink and white dress, a product of North Korean labor. Zhang, who speaks Korean and Chinese, does not even need his passport to enter North Korea. He has a permit that allows him to travel back and forth freely. He talked about how he’s developed good relations with his business partners there. “Over the past few years, I’ve built trust with the North Koreans,” he said. “Every year around the birthdays of the leaders, I go there in person and take fruit and flower baskets. I pay my respects to the leaders, and I’m sure my clients report this back to the authorities.” For North Koreans who make money on the Chinese side of the border, one question is how to get it back to Pyongyang. Since the start of the Korean War in 1950, when it included North Korea in the Trading With the Enemy Act, the United States has sought to restrict North Korea’s ability to bank and trade. This has tightened markedly over the past decade, with the United States imposing rounds of sanctions designed to curtail North Korea’s ability to procure materials for its nuclear weapons program by shutting the country out of the international financial system. The latest measures were imposed in January as punishment for the hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment. The restrictions hurt at first. But North Korea has wised up. It uses small banks in China or Russia to transfer money — several banks in Dandong said it was possible to wire money to Pyongyang, for a hefty commission — or simply reverts to old-fashioned suitcases full of cash, which are much harder to stop with sanctions. There is a sense in Dandong that sanctions are an issue for Washington and Beijing but that they don’t apply here on the border. “I’m just a local businessman,” Zhang said, adding that sanctions “apply to big, international companies, not to private individuals like us,” clearly considering his business with North Korea domestic. “Anyway, we find ways to get around them.” Ri, the Korean Chinese trader, said that his business partners always want cash. “So they come out or I go into North Korea to settle the bills,” he said in his office in Dandong, running wooden beads through his fingers. “They like to be paid in U.S. dollars, euros, Japanese yen.” (North Koreans returning to Pyongyang apparently like to carry American dollars for the cachet.) Everyone interviewed said that it is entirely possible to send cash to North Korea — people usually just carry it in bags over the bridge — and that while there might technically be limits on how much a person can carry, in practice there are no checks, or at least no checks that cannot be overcome by greasing a few palms. But the regime doesn’t always want cash. The North Korean businessmen who talked to The Post said they buy goods according to orders from Pyongyang and ship those back instead. Recently, they have been asked to send back solar panels and generators to help deal with North Korea’s chronic electricity shortage. Relations between China and North Korea are complicated, but one thing is clear: Politics and economics are not entirely intertwined. “There is a lot of jumping to conclusions in Washington and discussion about China showing a strong hand to North Korea,” said John Park, a North Korea sanctions expert at MIT. “I don’t see the evidence for that.” Although trade appears to have dipped recently, that is the result of sharp declines in prices of commodities such as coal and iron ore — two of North Korea’s biggest exports to China — rather than some kind of punishment for Kim’s lack of deference to Xi Jinping, the Chinese president. The young North Korean leader has not made the traditional pilgrimage to visit the state’s patron. But pragmatic China, Park said, does not want North Korea becoming unstable and risk unsettling this precarious northeastern part of China. “As you must have watched lots of historic soap operas in South Korea, you will know that China and North Korea are like lips and teeth,” said the North Korean factory manager over dinner, repeating an old saying about the neighbors. “Economically, nothing has changed.” (Anna Fifiled, “North Korea’s Growing Economy — And America’s Misconceptions about It,” Washington Post, March 13, 2015)


3/14/15:
CPRK spokesman’s statement: “On March 10, Jong Jong Uk, vice-chairman of the south Korean “preparatory committee for unification”, opened to public at a working breakfast the fact that there existed “a team for unification lacking agreement and unification of social systems” in the “preparatory committee for unification” and confessed that they were preparing in secret “other form of unification without south-north agreement” and other organization in the regime was also studying the “unification of social systems.” He went the lengths of letting loose a spate of sophism that the regime had a concrete measure to deal with people of various social origins in the north in case of “unification through absorption of social system.” …In the past the puppet group trumpeted about “unification of social systems” and “unification through absorption” whenever an opportunity presented itself. But this is the first time that it openly disclosed the inside story about its scenario. The disclosure of this fact sparked off uproar in south Korea. …Much upset by this, puppet Chongwadae and the coteries of the “preparatory committee for unification” claimed that “it was not true” and let him appear before media persons to assert that the “preparatory team for unification through absorption” didn’t exist in a bid to evade the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by his remarks. But this is like crying over spilt milk. As far as the “preparatory committee for unification” is concerned, it was set up as a mechanism directly under the “president” and its chairperson is Park Geun Hye herself. It was created by Park in July last year involving the authorities, political camp and NGOs including the puppet Ministry of Unification, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Intelligence Service, Ministry of Justice and “National Assembly” under the pretext of working out a “blueprint for peace and unification” and “constitution for unification” for the purpose of realizing the “confidence-building process on the Korean peninsula.” The successive rulers of south Korea had dreamt of wild ambition for confrontation of social systems and “unification through absorption” but there were no such heinous anti-reunification confrontation maniacs as the present puppet forces keen on confrontation of social systems by making the above-said team. The puppet forces, having an axe to grind and daggers hidden behind belts to hurt fellow countrymen, are talking about “dialogue”, “confidence” and “improved relations”. This is an unpardonable mockery and insult to the DPRK and the south Korean people’s mindset, public opinion at home and abroad and all Koreans. The puppet forces are no more than cat’s paws disgustingly kowtowing to their U.S. master keen to bring the dark clouds of nuclear war to the nation and colonial stooges who cannot exist even a moment without the U.S. backing. Yet, they are crying out for “unification of social systems” and “unification through absorption” in an effort to bring down the inviolable and dignified social system in the DPRK. This is nothing but a silly charade that makes the boiled head of a cow provoke a side-splitting laughter. The “unification through absorption” touted by the puppet group is no more than a daydream. The DPRK asserts the improved inter-Korean relations and peace and reunification not because it does not know other form and method of reunification or it lacks strength and ability. Park Geun Hye, as the head of the “preparatory committee for unification”, should give a clear and responsible clarification of those outbursts and make apology for them before the entire nation and dissolve at once the “committee.” Park should know that if she fails to do so, the DPRK will not deal with the present south Korean authorities.” (KCNA, “S. Korean Plot-Breeding Organization against Reunification Should Be Dissolved: CPRK,” March 14, 2015)


3/15/15:
The United States has included its advanced missile-defense system as part of the support it would provide South Korea in emergency situations on the Korean Peninsula, a South Korean military source said. “The U.S. plans to deploy a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in case of an emergency on the Korean Peninsula,” a military source told Yonhap. “My understanding is that THAAD is easily transportable with a U.S. military aircraft.” Washington has recently hinted at the deployment of a battery on Korean soil to better deter the North’s growing nuclear and missile threats. The U.S. stations about 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which is technically ongoing since no peace treaty has been signed to end it. The issue of whether or not South Korea should host the American missile defense system has caused a bipartisan divide in local politics. While conservatives support the system, the liberal side has not been so welcoming since it believes the U.S. presence here undermines South Korean sovereignty. The U.S., meanwhile, claims the battery is defensive in nature. Sources within the South Korean government also said Seoul has no intention to shoulder any of the cost involved in stationing THAAD on local soil. South Korea also says it opposes the U.S. deployment of AN/TPY-2, an early missile warning system that detects missiles up to 2,000 kilometers away, which would include China’s military facilities. “Our military has our own missile warning system, the Green Pine, which has a range of 600 km, so we don’t need AN/TPY-2,” a source within the South Korean government said. (Yonhap, “THAAD to Be Deployed in S. Korea in Emergencies: Source,” March 15, 2015)


3/17/15:
The Ministry of National Defense issued a warning to China over its attempts to intervene in the possible deployment of a U.S. anti-ballistic missile defense system in Korea. “Neighboring countries must not try to influence our defense policy,” Kim Min-seok, spokesman of the National Defense Ministry, said during a regular press briefing. “They can have their own opinions, but we will judge the situation and make a decision based on our own military interests if the U.S. government makes a decision [to deploy the missile defense unit to Korea] and requests a consultation. That is our government’s consistent position.” Kim’s remarks came as Seoul is being pulled in opposite directions by China and the United States over the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, better known as Thaad. As signs grow that Washington will ask Korea to use the system, Beijing has stepped up its pressure on Seoul to steer clear of it. Both China and Russia are against deployment of a Thaad battery in Korea because they worry that its radar system, which can cover more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles), could be used as a method of surveillance against them. Yesterday, Chinese Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Liu Jianchao met with Lee Kyung-soo, his Korean counterpart, and voiced Beijing’s concerns. The Ministry of Defense’s Kim expressed rare public support for the Thaad deployment, a change from Seoul’s position that it wants to maintain strategic ambiguity on the issue. The Foreign Ministry and the Blue House go so far as to say that the issue has never even been discussed with Washington. Kim said Korea already told China about its backing for the Thaad deployment to protect against North Korean threats. “The issue of the Thaad deployment started as a way to deter and counter the intensifying nuclear and missile threats of North Korea,” Kim said. “The Ministry of National Defense will make a decision to defend our people’s lives and safety.” “Defense Minister Han Min-koo said last October 7 that the Thaad deployment by U.S. Forces Korea should be seen from the perspective of national security and defense,” Kim said. “Because we have limited means to use against the nuclear and missile threats, Han said the deployment would benefit our national security and defense.” Kim said Seoul has expressed this position to Beijing. “The government’s stance was clearly delivered to China during the defense ministerial talks between the two countries in Seoul on February 4,” Kim said. A visiting U.S. senior official also criticized China’s attempts to influence Korea. “I find it curious that a third country would presume to make strong representations about a security system that has not been put in place and that is still a matter of theory,” said Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. Russel was on his way to meet with his Korean counterpart, Assistant Foreign Minister Lee, when he answered reporters’ questions on Thaad. “I’m not an expert on ballistic missiles, but I do know that [Korea] and the United States face a significant threat from North Korea’s growing ballistic missile program. It’s a program that North Korea is pursuing in violation of international law and our military authorities have a responsibility to consider systems that would protect the Republic of Korea and its citizens, protect the United States from that threat. How they do it, when they do it is something that the experts will have to determine but I think that it is for [Korea] to decide what measures it will take in its own alliance defense and when,” he said. Asked if he will discuss the Thaad issue with Lee during the meeting, Russel said he originally had no intention to do so, but admitted that it could happen. “The issue, I think, is very much in the public domain now because of the comments of our Chinese colleague yesterday, but that is not part of my agenda,” he said. Experts blamed the Park Geun-hye administration for having fueled the diplomatic quandary over the Thaad deployment by insisting on “strategic ambiguity.” As Beijing intensified its pressure, the United States decided to make a move first by announcing last week that it has already conducted site surveys in Korea for a Thaad battery. Provoked by the move, China apparently decided to step up its pressure and Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Liu spoke unusually strongly and publicly about the issue. “Even when the U.S. forces introduced nuclear weapons to the Korean Peninsula, we didn’t have this debate,” a retired general who had worked in the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command told JoongAng Ilbo. The nuclear weapons were withdrawn from the peninsula in 1992. Thaad should have been approached as a security issue, not a diplomatic issue, he said. Kim Jong-dae, editor-in-chief of Defense 21 Plus, said Washington started considering the Thaad deployment to Korea in 2013 and the Park administration had two years to prepare for it. “But it failed to use the time wisely,” he said. Another former diplomat criticized the Park government’s use of the term “strategic ambiguity.” “The United States and China can both have doubts,” he said. “When you cannot have a candid conversation, how can it be called a healthy alliance?” Others said the time has come for the Park government to become more decisive, expressing suspicions that the information sharing and policy coordination among the Blue House’s National Security Council, the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry were probably insufficient. “If we need Thaad, the National Security Council must make a decision and express our intention to the United States and make aggressive efforts to persuade China,” said Moon Chung-in, a political science professor at Yonsei University. “Indecisiveness was often packaged as strategic ambiguity in the past,” said Prof. Kim Hyun-wook, head of the Department of American Studies at the state-run Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security in the Korea National Diplomatic Academy. “We must make a decision that will heighten the strategic value by carefully calculating when to move forward and when to step back.” (Ser Myo-ja and Kwon Ho, “Seoul Rebukes China on THAAD,” JoongAng Ilbo, March 18, 2015)


3/18/15:
North Korea’s exports to Russia soared 31.9 percent in 2014 from a year ago, according to the Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency. North Korea’s outbound shipments to Russia reached $10.17 million in 2014. By item, textile exports came to $4.7 million, or 46.2 percent of the total, followed by machinery with $1.6 million, musical instruments with $1.37 million and electrical equipment with $670,000. Pyongyang also sold $250,000 worth of cars to Russia last year, 2.3 times more than the previous year, with shipments of optical devices soaring more than 60 times to $190,000. Bilateral trade volume, however, fell 11.4 percent on-year to $92.34 million last year as Pyongyang’s imports from Russia shrank 14.9 percent to $82.17 million. Crude imports dropped 7.9 percent on-year to $33.98 million last year, taking up the largest 41.7 percent share of the total imports. “North Korea has been striving to strengthen economic cooperation with Moscow, though it will take time for the North to diversify its trade markets due to its heavy dependence on China in the past,” said Cho Bong-hyun, a senior research fellow at the state-run Industrial Bank of Korea in Seoul. Last year, more than 90 percent of its exports were bound for China. Bilateral trade between North Korea and China, however, fell 2.4 percent from 2013 to $6.39 billion in 2014, the first annual decline since 2009, according to Seoul data. (Yonhap, “North Korea’s Exports to Russia Jump 32 Pct in 2014: Report,” Korea Herald, March 18, 2015)


3/20/15:
North Korea‘s ambassador to the UK Hyun Hak-bong has told Sky News Defense Correspondent Alistair Bunkall that his country could fire a nuclear missile “anytime.” This is a big deal and a frightening prospect — if it’s true. “We are prepared,” the ambassador said. “That is why I say if a sparkle of a fire is made on the Korean Peninsula, it will lead to a nuclear war. We don’t say empty words. We mean what we mean. It is not the United States that has a monopoly on nuclear weapons strikes.” Bunkall sought clarification: “So can I just be clear: you are telling me that the North Korea has the ability now to fire a nuclear missile?” “Anytime, anytime, yes.” the ambassador said. (Mark Stone, “North Korea Nuke Threat Frightening — If True,” Sky News, March 20, 2015)

South Korea vowed to take steps preventing activists from sending copies of Hollywood film “The Interview” into North Korea next week, citing a “limit” to freedom of expression. Activists plan to launch some 10,000 copies of the film — a comedy about a fictional CIA plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un whose release infuriated Pyongyang — as well as 500,000 propaganda leaflets by balloon across the heavily. The South’s unification ministry called Friday for pre-emptive steps to protect local residents, saying there is a “limit” to freedom of expression. “If such a movement is detected in advance, the government will take necessary measures because it may threaten the security of residents there,” ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol told reporters. (AFP, Jiji, “South Korea Says It Will Prevent Activists Dropping ‘The Interview’ DVDs from Balloons in North Korea,” Japan Times, March 20, 2015)

The UN Panel of Experts (PoE) has recommended that North Korea’s space agency, the National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) be added to the list of sanctioned entities. In a draft version of their 2015 report the PoE states , “The National Aerospace Development Administration has taken over the function and responsibilities of the Korean Committee for Space Technology, which defies the (UN) resolutions. It has also taken over the country’s General Satellite Control and Command Center.” (Leo Byrne, “Sanction North Korean Space Agency, Says U.N. Panel of Experts,” NKNews, March 20, 2015)

Amid continued controversies over the proposed deployment of the U.S.-developed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea, the U.S. military has concluded that North Korea has already succeeded in making some nuclear weapons small enough to fit atop missiles. “We know North Korea`s ambitions in terms of their demonstrated cyber, their ambitions for nuclear weapons, the tests that have already occurred,” Adm. Cecil Haney, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. “And we think (North Koreans) already miniaturized some of this capability.” In written testimony to the U.S. House appropriations subcommittee on defense, General Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, stressed the need for a “layered” and “interoperable” ballistic missile defense capability. The “layered” missile defense is interpreted as an indication of the THAAD deployment. A THAAD missile would intercept an incoming North Korean missile at a high altitude. If the interception fails, a Patriot missile would make another attempt to shoot down the incoming missile at a low altitude. Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, also said in written testimony to the subcommittee that the command will continue “its efforts in maintaining a credible, sustainable ballistic missile defense” to cope with the North`s continued ballistic missile threats. (Dong-A Ilbo, “U.S. Strategic Command Chief: N. Korea ‘Miniaturized’ Nuclear Warheads,” March 21, 2015)


3/21/15:
KCNA: “The frontline units of the Korean People’s Army decided to send an open notice to the south Korean authorities [today] which said: The south Korean puppet authorities are egging despicable confrontational villains on to flock to the areas along the Military Demarcation Line and scatter leaflets slandering the DPRK. A few days ago, a group of hooligans more dead than alive who belong to the ultra-right conservative organizations such as the “Alliance for the Movement of Free North” announced they would get balloon-borne anti-DPRK leaflets numbering 500 000 and thousands of DVDs scattered in the air above the DPRK before and after the upcoming March 26th, the 5th anniversary of the sinking of Cheonan warship even with the U.S. “Human Rights Foundation” involved. It is the height of hostility that the south Korean puppet forces still misuse the warship sinking case, that has long been branded as the unprecedented hideous conspiratorial farce, for escalating confrontation with the DPRK by linking the case with it. They are mulling scattering DVDs and USBs containing “The Interview”, a reactionary film that has been censured worldwide for seriously hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK. This is the gravest politically-motivated provocation against the DPRK and a de facto declaration of a war against it. Their reckless acts are aimed at deliberately escalating tension on the Korean peninsula where the situation has reached the brink of a war due to Key Resolve and Foal Eagle joint war rehearsals. All the firepower strike means of the frontline units of the KPA will launch without prior warning indiscriminate operations to blow up balloons carrying those leaflets. Whether scattering operations are conducted in areas along the MDL or in any point of sea or in the air, whether balloons or drones are used for those operations and whether they are carried out openly or secretly, they will never escape strikes of firepower strike means of the KPA to be involved in the operations for blowing up the balloons. Powerful firepower strike means deployed in the frontline units will go into action. Any challenge to the DPRK’s just physical countermeasures will entail double and treble merciless retaliatory strikes. Inhabitants of the south side in the areas close to or bordering the MDL are recommended to evacuate in advance for their safety if the above-said leaflet scattering operations are conducted. We do not want to see innocent inhabitants of the south side suffer any slight harm due to the reckless acts of the confrontational villains. The south Korean puppet authorities will be held fully accountable for all the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by their leaflet scattering operations.” (KCNA, “KPA Will Blow up Balloons Carrying Anti-DPRK Leaflets: Open Notice of KPA Frontline Units,” March 22, 2015)

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and his Chinese and Japanese counterparts Wang Yi and Kishida Fumio agreed to continue efforts to hold a trilateral summit of their leaders at an early date as they seek to revive cooperation amid history and territorial rows. The trilateral meeting was held for the first time in almost three years. “The three ministers decided to continue their efforts to hold the trilateral summit at the earliest convenient time for the three countries,” Yun told a press conference. A trilateral summit has not been held since May 2012. In November, South Korean President Park Geun-hye expressed her hope to meet with the Chinese and Japanese leaders following a meeting of their top diplomats. “By facing history squarely and advancing toward the future, the three foreign ministers also agreed that the three nations should address related issues properly and to work together to improve bilateral relations and to strengthen trilateral cooperation,” Yun added. (Kim Soo-yeon, “S. Korea, China, Japan Vow Efforts to Hold Summit at Early Date,” Yonhap, March 21, 2015) During the meeting, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stressed that China keeps an eye on historical issues, saying, “We should deal with historical issues in an appropriate manner and work on maintaining the right direction of cooperation between the three countries in accordance with a spirit to move toward the future by learning lessons from history.” Although the details of their discussions were yet to be revealed, a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official said Friday the meeting was expected to focus on strengthening cooperation among the three countries in a wide range of fields, including disaster management, environmental issues, youth exchange and a free trade agreement. Kishida, who was visiting South Korea for the first time since he assumed the post in December 2012, held bilateral talks with Yun and Wang prior to the trilateral meeting. During the talks with Wang, Kishida said, “We positively evaluate the fact that the Japan-China relationship is improving,” and, “It is important to develop a future-oriented relationship between Japan and China.” In reply, Wang said, “We take note that normal exchanges [between the two countries] are gradually recovering.” He added that whether the China-Japan relationship can develop normally depends on whether the two countries can comply with a four-point agreement reached in November to improve bilateral ties. The four-point agreement incorporates policies to ease tension over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Yun took up the so-called comfort women issue in the talks with Kishida. He also said South Korea will pay close attention to a statement Prime Minister Abe Shinzo plans to issue this summer on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Kishida told him that the Abe Cabinet inherits the past cabinets’ position on historical perception. (Oka Seima, “Japan, China, South Korea Agree to Realize Early Summit,” Yomiuri Shimbun, March 21, 2015) In a trilateral setting, the participants would normally focus on issues in which the three nations could cooperate, such as improving the safety of nuclear power generation, dealing with terrorism and environmental issues. However, the sensitivity to the historical recognition issue was evident in the emphasis placed on it by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang, both in the meeting with Foreign Minister Kishida and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun, as well as in the joint press release issued after their meeting. The document said the foreign ministers agreed to improve bilateral relations “in the spirit of facing history squarely and advancing toward the future.” Wang took up the history issue from the start of the three-way meeting. In the joint news conference afterward, the Chinese foreign minister touched upon the joint press release and said the inclusion of the phrase “facing history squarely” was “the most important outcome” of the meeting. While the comment was likely intended to demonstrate the significance of reaching a certain degree of agreement with the Abe administration given the many differences existing over historical understanding issues, a high-ranking Japanese Foreign Ministry official explained that the phrase also appeared in past joint documents issued on the occasion of meetings between the leaders of the three nations. The agreement on holding the three-way foreign ministers’ meeting was a sign that China still considered that framework important. However, Beijing is still far from comfortable with holding a meeting of the leaders of the three nations. Both Japan and South Korea want to hold such a meeting, and that posture led to the inclusion in the joint press release of the phrase “the three ministers decided to continue their efforts to hold the trilateral summit at the earliest convenient time.” However, Wang later told reporters, “There is no timetable (for such a summit meeting). There is a need for the proper environment.” According to officials in the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Wang told Chinese media organizations, “If one views history squarely, it would not be possible to deny the historical fact of aggression and colonial rule.” According to Japanese government officials, Wang also emphasized historical recognition in his talks with Kishida ahead of the trilateral meeting of foreign ministers. Wang told Kishida, “Attention is building on the attitude with which Japan will face up to its history.” The comment was likely in reference to the statement that is to be issued by Abe this year to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Yun also expressed interest in the Abe statement in his bilateral discussions with Kishida. After the joint news conference, Kishida told reporters, “During the talks with Wang, I gave a careful explanation of Japan’s thinking and position in relation to history.” (Matsui Nozomi, Hayashi Nozomu, and Higashioka Toru, “Foreign Ministers Raise Concerns over History Issues in First Trilateral Meeting in 3 Years,” Asahi Shimbun, March 22, 2015)


3/23/15:
Anti-North Korea activists announced a provisional halt to their controversial campaign to fly propaganda leaflets across the border amid military tensions on the peninsula. Park Sang-hak, a North Korean defector leading a related group, said he will postpone their plan to send half-a-million leaflets to the North until after March 26, the fifth anniversary of the North’s deadly sinking of a South Korean naval ship, the Cheonan. His decision was conditional, however, as he said he is giving Pyongyang a chance to apologize for the attack. Speaking to Yonhap by phone, he said his group, which calls itself the Fighters for a Free North Korea, and several other civic organizations will wait until the anniversary. If the North does not budge, they will discuss a new date for sending the leaflets, he added. They initially planned to hold an event near the border sending gigantic balloons or drones, if possible, across carrying leaflets and thousands of DVDs of “The Interview,” a Hollywood comedy about a plot to assassinate the North’s leader Kim Jong-un. (Yonhap, “Activists to Halt Leaflet Campaign amid N. Korea’s Threats,” March 23, 2015) A leading anti-North Korean activist vowed March 24 to continue his campaign to send leaflets critical of the communist country across the border despite bitter military threats from the North.

“Balloons (carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets) that convey news from the outside are a kind of media to North Koreans, which should not be an object of any political negotiations,” Lee Min-bok, head of the Campaign for Helping North Korea in a Direct Way, said in an e-mail sent to journalists. “Upon a favorable flow of wind, (the group) will scatter anti-North Korea leaflets any time,” said Lee, a North Korean defector. “We will never stop the leaflet campaigns until the North Korean regime allows North Koreans the freedom to use radio and the Internet.” (Yonhap, “Activist Vows Leaflet Drop despite N. Korean Threats,” Korea Herald, March 24, 2015)

South Korea has decided to join a Chinese-led development bank and is expected to announce the decision soon, a South Korean diplomatic source with direct knowledge of the matter said, despite U.S. concerns over the new multilateral lender in Asia. The Chinese-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has recently gained traction as major Western economies, including Britain, Germany and France, decided to join. South Korea, a close ally of the U.S. in Asia, has said it will make a decision by the end of this month. The end of March is the deadline set by China for interested parties to become members of the AIIB. Many experts see the bank as a counterbalance to the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank which have been dominated by the United States and other Western economies. “We will make an announcement on joining the AIIB sometime this week or early next week,” said the source, who is in regular contact with Chinese officials over the matter. “Once the announcement is made, we will begin negotiations with member states of the AIIB over our stake,” the source said. China has offered US$50 billion and seeks a reported stake of up to 50 percent in the AIIB, which South Korea views negatively because China could make unilateral decisions in the bank’s operations. Details of the AIIB are still sketchy, but the source said European countries would have a combined 25-percent stake in the AIIB. So far, about 30 countries have decided to join the AIIB and they will hold a working-level meeting in Kazakhstan later this month, the source said. Yesterday, Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli dismissed concerns about the governance structure and decision-making process of the AIIB, saying it will follow “internationally accepted rules.” (Yonhap, “S. Korea to Join China-Led Development Bank: Source,” March 23, 2015) South Korea will join the China-led regional development bank as one of its founding members, the finance ministry announced Thursday, helping bolster the Asian neighbor’s growing clout in the region that is alerting the U.S. (Yonhap, “S. Korea to Join China-Led Investment Bank,” March 26, 2015)


3/24/15:
NDC Policy Department spokesman’s statement “to clarify its principled stand on the “May 24 step”: The south Korean authorities are kicking up a noisy racket against the DPRK over the Cheonan warship sinking case which has nothing to do with it. The warship sinking case and the “May 24 step” taken by them in its wake were a vivid manifestation of the anti-reunification acts as they were deliberately cooked up to nullify the historic June 15 joint declaration and the October 4 declaration. But the present authorities of south Korea are still spreading the cock-and bull-story that there should be a “change in attitude of the north” such as “admission,” “apology,” “expression of regret” over the Cheonan case if the “step” is to be lifted. They even absurdly call for putting the issue of lifting the “step” on the table. …Firstly, we remain unchanged in our stand that the south has to immediately lift the ill-famed “step” which they cooked up under the absurd pretext of the Cheonan warship sinking case, not dragging on time. This is because the “step” is based on the fictitious story about the north’s “involvement in the sinking.” Lack of just ground will prove any step unreasonable. Secondly, the south should clearly understand that its sophism that “apology” and “expression of regret” have to precede the lifting of the “step” can never work. Should anyone demand the north “apologize” and attempt to table the “step,” that will be regarded as an intolerable mockery of the DPRK and the declaration of stand-off with it. If the south Korean authorities truly wish for the improvement of the north-south relations, they should bear in mind that they have to move first to lift the “step.” Thirdly, it is the invariable stand of the DPRK to immediately start reinvestigation for the scientific clarification of the truth behind the sinking that resulted in the ill-famed “step”, if necessary, though belatedly. If the south Korean authorities truly stand for the settlement of the issue, they should take a bold decision of accepting all the proposals made by the DPRK for the settlement of the issue concerning the sinking. If they find it difficult to respond to the DPRK’s proposals, they can just bring to Panmunjom or any other places agreed all materials and evidence related to the sinking to just let the DPRK expose roundly before the world the truth behind the case. The statement warned that the south Korean authorities should not forget even a moment that if they persist in their vociferous talk about the “May 24 step” by groundlessly linking the sinking case with the DPRK, they will be branded as the second Lee Myung Bak group of traitors and a group of those who are more dead than alive.” (KCNA, “NDC Policy Department Clarifies DPRK’s Principled Stand on ‘May 24 Step,’” March 24, 2015)


3/25/15:
KPA Panmunjom mission “indictment exposing the U.S. criminal act of cooking up the Cheonan warship sinking case and abusing it for stepping up its hostile policy toward the DPRK: The U.S. is the arch criminal that engineered the case by instigating the south Korean puppet forces. …The U.S., which had repeated plots to save its policy for invading the DPRK and its pivot to Asia-Pacific strategy from crises and give a shot in the arm of its colonial stooges, concluded that it needed a shocking case. Accordingly, the U.S. imperialist aggression forces command in Pacific held a confab with stooges of the “Institute for National Defense Studies” and the “Pacific Strategy Institute” of south Korea and suddenly launched the joint naval drills in waters off the five islands in the West Sea where tensions between the north and the south constantly ran high. According to the scenario worked out by the U.S. in top secret, the Cheonan warship sank at night on March 26, 2010, leaving 46 puppet army soldiers dead. It was orchestrated by the U.S. out of its sinister intention to hold control of south Korea and Japan, use them as a shock brigade in realizing its ambition for world domination and intensify the moves to isolate and stifle the DPRK after securing justifications for arms buildup in the region. A typical example was the scientific clarification made by competent naval military experts of the Russian Pacific Fleet of the fact that the warship sank by a special torpedo from a smaller diving apparatus launched by the nuclear-powered submarine of the U.S. forces, not by a “torpedo of the north.” The indictment also exposed that the U.S. has persistently stood in the way of a fair probe into the truth about the case. It continued: The U.S. brought to rupture the colonel-level working contacts between the militaries of the DPRK and the U.S. in Panmunjom that were held on seven occasions from July 15 to October 27, 2010 for the probe into the truth behind the case. The indictment termed the U.S. a backstage wire-puller that instigated the south Korean puppet forces to cook up a story about “the north’s attack.” The U.S. didn’t hesitate to run the whole gamut of base acts to put under carpet the fabrication of the warship sinking case, it noted, adding: A particular mention should be made of the fact that the U.S. egged the south Korean puppet forces on to spread the story of “north’s attack” and asserted it was an established fact that the north was a suspect, claiming that “there were almost no other suspects except for north Korea” and “the warship sank by a torpedo attack of north Korea.” While egging the puppet forces on to stage a farce “proving” the story about “the north’s torpedo attack,” the U.S. got zealous in building up public opinion to justify it. The indictment branded the U.S. as hordes of warmongers who abused the warship sinking case for its moves for invading the DPRK. No sooner had the case occurred than the U.S. pushed the situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of a war, getting frantic with its war racket targeting the DPRK. …Right after the “results of investigation” peppered with sheer lies were published on May 20, 2010, Obama instructed the U.S. Department of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff to make thorough military preparations to “cope with future invasion by north Korea.” Pursuant to it, U.S. warships sailed into the West Sea of Korea and largest-ever joint submarine, naval mobile, air mobile and naval landing drills and other joint maneuvers of various forms were staged almost every day. Arms buildup and deployment of forces were stepped up according to the conversion of the command of the U.S. Eighth Army into the “one for executing a war.” War servants of the U.S. were busy visiting south Korea and Japan, where they were loudmouthed about “very dangerous situation on the Korean peninsula” and held confabs for tightening the military alliance for aggression among the U.S., Japan and south Korea to cope with contingency on the Korean peninsula. The U.S. zealously hurled war maniacs of the south Korean puppet military into reckless military provocations to escalate confrontation with compatriots in the north. The U.S. scenario to abuse the warship sinking case for laying a siege for international “sanctions” against the DPRK was executed at an ever more serious phase. The U.S. should admit before the Korean nation and the world public its criminal fabrication of the case and abuse of it for carrying out its hostile policy toward the DPRK and escalating confrontation between Koreans and make an apology for them, though belatedly.” (KCNA, “KPA Panmunjom Mission Discloses U.S. Criminal Abuse of Cheonan Warship Sinking for Hostile Policy toward DPRK,” March 25, 2015)


3/26/15:
DPRK FoMin spokesman: “The U.S. has undisguisedly revealed its ulterior design to deploy at any cost THAAD in south Korea, trumpeting about the missile “threat” from the DPRK more noisily than ever before. …The U.S. is busy staging joint military drills against the DPRK in a bid to push it to taking strong counteractions and steadily escalate the tension on the Korean peninsula, one of immediate goals of which is to press for the deployment of THAAD in south Korea. What the U.S. seeks in this deployment is to round off its preparations for mounting a preemptive strike at the DPRK and create favorable conditions for containing China and Russia, its strategic rivals, pursuant to its strategy for dominating the world. The projected THAAD deployment was prompted by the U.S. strategic purpose to form the U.S.-Japan-south Korea triangular military alliance, the Asian-version of NATO, and set up a global missile defence system at any cost. The south Korean puppet forces with inveterate humiliating sycophancy toward the U.S. are making no scruple of perpetrating acts of blocking the reunification of the country and harassing peace and stability in the region as a shock brigade of the U.S. for carrying out its strategy for dominating the world. The south Korean puppet group is keen to maintain its power and realize its wild ambition for stifling the DPRK with the backing of the U.S. The group is working hard to turn the Korean peninsula, a hotspot where the complicated interests of big powers are intermingled, into a theatre of fierce scramble among them by introducing the dangerous war hardware into south Korea. In case THAAD is deployed in south Korea, that will establish a new Cold War structure in Northeast Asia and the peninsula will be again exposed to the danger of being reduced to the theatre of a war of big powers. The more desperately the U.S. and the south Korean puppet forces resort to their war drills and arms buildup against the DPRK, the further the latter will bolster up its war deterrence to cope with them.” (KCNA, “DPRK Foreign Ministry Spokesman Censures U.S. Projected Deployment of THAAD in S. Korea,” March 26, 2015)

Russia and China discussed resuming six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program this week, while a South Korean diplomat said five of the participants had agreed on conditions to present to Pyongyang for restarting the negotiations. Earlier this month, South Korea’s representative to the talks said China and Russia, as well as the United States, Japan, and South Korea, have reached “a certain degree of consensus,” on how to restart the process. “Now is the time for ‘exploratory talks,’ to deliver the common view of the five parties to North Korea and to check its response,” Hwang Joon-kook, South Korea’s ambassador to the talks, said in a March 12 speech, without giving specifics. “If such talks can prove North Korea’s sincerity towards the negotiations on denuclearization, the Six-Party Talks can be resumed,” he said. (Reuters, “North Korea’s Neighbors Push to Restart Six-Party Talks,” March 26, 2015)


3/27/15:
South Korea called on North Korea to immediately release two of its nationals detained on espionage charges. North Korea announced yesterday that it has arrested the two South Korean men on charges of espionage for the South’s state spy agency. “It’s very regrettable that the North is making such a groundless claim about them,” the unification ministry said in a statement. “We strongly call for their quick release and repatriation.” Speaking at a press briefing, unification ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol confirmed that Kim and Choe are South Korean nationals. But he refused to clarify whether they are related to the NIS. It is a matter that requires a South Korean government probe after they are freed and repatriated here, Lim said. The North held a press conference for the two, which it identified as Kim Kuk-gi and Choe Chun-gil, at the People’s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang yesterday. An unnamed official at the North’s Ministry of State Security branded them as “heinous terrorists,” according to Pyongyang’s media. “They zealously took part in the anti-DPRK smear campaign of the U.S. imperialists and the puppet group of traitors to isolate and blockade the DPRK in the international arena by labeling it ‘a country printing counterfeit notes’ and ‘sponsor of terrorism’ while pulling it up over its ‘human rights issue,'” the North’s official was quoted as saying. The official also accused the two of gathering information on the Workers’ Party of Korea and other state and military secrets. Pyongyang released public footage and audio files of what it claims to be the two men’s confessions of spying for the South’s National Intelligence Service (NIS). With the North’s security agents standing next to them, Kim and Choe said they were bribed by a senior NIS agent to collect information on the communist nation and criticize its system. In 2010, Kim said, he received an “instruction” from the NIS that the North’s top leader might visit China by train and he provided the Seoul-based agency with information related to a railway station in a Chinese border town. He also said he offered information on the North’s nuclear program. He admitted to have committed a grave crime and apologized for that. Kim was born in Daejeon, a South Korean city, and he had operated an underground church in the Chinese border city of Dandong since 2003, the North said, without specifying when and how he was arrested. As to Choe, it said, his hometown is the South’s eastern city of Chuncheon, and the 56-year-old left his country in 2003 and spent many years in China. He was caught by the North’s border guards after illegally entering the nation. (Yonhap, “S. Korea Urges N. Korea to Released Two Arrested Nationals,” March 27, 2015)

The UN Human Rights Council strongly criticized North Korea for “systematic abduction, denial of repatriation and subsequent enforced disappearance of persons, including those from other countries, on a large scale and as a matter of state policy” after a UN investigation found it had snatched up to 200,000 foreign nationals. But the 47-member rights body’s resolution was dismissed by North Korean foreign ministry official Ri Hung-Sik, as a “political plot filled with frauds and distortions” which was “intended to bring down the system and ideology” of his country. The adopted text decried North A UN-mandated investigation issued a searing report in February 2014 accusing North Korea of committing human rights violations “without parallel in the contemporary world,” including the abductions of an estimated 200,000 foreign nationals from at least 12 countries. Most of them were South Koreans left stranded after the 1950-1953 Korean War, but hundreds of others from around the world have since been taken or disappeared while visiting the secretive Stalinist state. The number of Japanese citizens believed to have been taken to train North Korean spies in Japanese language and customs are now estimated “in the hundreds,” the UN’s top investigator on the rights situation in North Korea, Marzuki Darusman, told reporters last week. Darusman, whose mandate was extended for another year by today’s resolution, has called for the international community to resolve the fate of the abductees, and to refer the perpetrators to the International Criminal Court. In 2002, North Korea admitted that it had kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens to train its spies. Five of the abductees returned home, but Pyongyang said — without producing credible evidence — that the eight others had died. Pyongyang agreed last May to reinvestigate the cases of Japanese nationals kidnapped in the 1970s and 1980s in return for Tokyo lifting sanctions. Today’s resolution said it was “expecting concrete and positive results” from that probe. Speaking to reporters, Ri harshly criticised Japan, a co-sponsor of the resolution, for bringing up abduction issue despite knowing “the issue is under investigation”. “This issue is to be … addressed bilaterally between the DPRK and Japan,” he said. Speaking through a translator, he acknowledged that “it is wrong to abduct the nationals of other countries”, but stressed that North Korea and Japan had been “in hostile relations” when the admitted abductions took place. He also insisted that the Japanese citizens “were abducted, not by the country authorities, but by some agencies” inside North Korea. As for the suspected kidnappings of people from other countries, he insisted: “There were no abductions of the other nationals.” (Nina Larson, “UN Criticizes N. Korea for ‘Systematic’ Abduction of Foreigners,” AFP, March 27, 2015)


3/30/15:
Thousands of US and South Korean troops, backed by helicopters and jet fighters, staged a massive, amphibious landing drill March 30 — the centerpiece of an annual military exercise condemned by North Korea. A total of 7,600 soldiers, including 3,500 marines, along with 80 aircraft, 30 ships, and scores of armored vehicles and tanks, took part in the drill to secure a bridgehead along the coast of Pohang, some 360 kilometers (223 miles) south of Seoul. (AFP, “U.S., S. Korea Marines Stage Major Landing Drill,” March 30, 2015) The amphibious drill will run until April 1 at the port of Pohang, some 360 kilometers (223 miles) south of Seoul, the US-South Korea Combined Forces Command said in a statement. US sailors and Marines from the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) based in Okinawa, Japan, are also participating in the drill, known as Ssangyong in South Korea and the Korean Marine Exchange Program (KMEP) in the United States. “KMEP is designed to strengthen our interoperability in amphibious operations between the US and ROK Forces, which contributes to the security and stability on the Korean Peninsula as well as the entire Asia-Pacific region,” the statement said. The scale of the drill has been downgraded compared with last year, though it marks the peak of the eight-week Foal Eagle joint US-South Korea military exercise which started on March 2 and is scheduled to end on April 24. (AFP, “South Korea, U.S. to Start Amphibious Drill,” March 19, 2015)


3/31/15:
A North Korean diplomat says his country’s nuclear weapons program is not subject to negotiation, rejecting a U.S. call for its denuclearization. The diplomat, from the North Korean mission to the United Nations in New York, told VOA his country will not negotiate away its nuclear weapons. “Denuclearization should not be an objective of any future talks with us,” said the official, who preferred to remain anonymous. “We will never give up nuclear weapons before the U.S. and the world are denuclearized.” The diplomat reiterated Pyongyang’s longstanding position that it must have nuclear weapons to deter the U.S. threat, saying his country has no “expectations of negotiations as the U.S. is increasing its hostile policy” against North Korea. (Baik Sungwon, “N. Korean Envoy: Nuclear Weapons Not Negotiable,” VOA, April 1, 2015) Hopes are fading for a resolution to the dispute over North Korea’s nuclear programs as Pyongyang sticks to its adventurism and Washington seems unlikely to focus on the issue with Iran topping its denuclearization agenda. In a media interview, the North’s delegation at the U.N. said it would not engage in any negotiations over its denuclearization, including the six-party talks that involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia. On March 30, Rodong Sinmun said that Pyongyang would not renounce its “byungjin line” ― simultaneously pursuing the development of nuclear weapons and its economy, stressing that the policy would lead the country in a “direction of peace and prosperity.” “We should hold fast to our invincible byungjin line, and conscientiously push for a struggle to build a strong and prosperous nation,” the paper said as it marked the second anniversary of the announcement of the policy line. (Song Sang-ho, “”Hopes Dim for Resolution of N.K. Nuclear Dispute,” Korea Herald, April 1, 2015)

North Korea applied to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank but its membership was denied in February. The reclusive regime sent a message to the bank’s inaugural president, Jin Liqun, through diplomatic channels indicating its interest, but according to the online British publication Emerging Markets, China refused to meet North Korea’s request. North Korea reportedly expressed shock at China’s rejection of its request. Chinese authorities replied through diplomatic channels to explain North Korea’s economic fundamentals and financial condition disqualify Pyongyang from membership in a new bank poised to become one of Asia’s largest financial institutions. (Elizabeth Shim, “China Rejects North Korea Request to Join Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank,” UPI, March 31, 2015)


4/2/15:
North Korea told Japan that official negotiations resumed one year ago are facing difficulties, criticizing Tokyo for playing an active role globally in condemning Pyongyang’s human rights records. In a notification sent through diplomatic channels, North Korea blamed Japan for “internationalizing” the issue of its past abductions of Japanese nationals at the United Nations, which has undermined the trust between the two countries. North Korea also accused Japanese police of “illegally” raiding the home of the head of the pro-Pyongyang association in Japan late last month, KCNA said. “Under such circumstances, it is becoming difficult to carry out negotiations between the two governments,” KCNA said. After resuming official talks for the first time since November 2012, Japan and North Korea struck a deal in Stockholm last May on guiding principles for their negotiations. Among other points, North Korea promised to conduct a comprehensive survey of all Japanese in the country, including those it abducted in the 1970s and 1980s, in exchange for Tokyo lifting some of its unilateral sanctions against Pyongyang. In early July, Japan lifted some of those sanctions. However, Pyongyang failed to meet its promise of providing an initial report on the findings of the probe by early autumn last year. On March 26, police searched the Tokyo home of Ho Jong Man, who heads Chongryon, as well as other locations in connection with alleged illegal imports of matsutake mushrooms from North Korea. Japanese officials said the search was independently conducted by the police and unrelated to the stalled negotiations. (Kyodo, “N. Korea Tells Japan Ongoing Talks Facing Difficulties,” Japan Times, April 2, 2015)

KCNA: “The DPRK sent a notice to the Japanese side [today] through diplomatic channel, clarifying its stand on Japan’s grave political provocation and encroachment on the state sovereignty of the DPRK which are going beyond tolerance limit. Recalling that the DPRK is sincerely implementing the DPRK-Japan Stockholm Agreement, the notice said that Japan is internationalizing the abduction issue and hyping it as a main issue at the UN human rights forum in violation of the agreement in which both sides decided to settle the issue, thus making it hard to trust the dialogue partner. Strongly denouncing the Japanese police for perpetrating the unheard-of encroachment on the sovereignty of the DPRK by searching the houses of the leading officials of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan who are deputies to the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK, the notice demanded the Japanese government make a thoroughgoing probe into the case and make an apology. Under such situation it is hard to hold DPRK-Japanese inter-governmental dialogue, it said.” (KCNA, “DPRK Notifies Japanese Side of Its Stand on Grave Political Provocation and Encroachment on State Sovereignty,” April 2, 2015)

Rodong Sinmun commentary “blasts the south Korean puppet forces for zealously joining in railroading the anti-DPRK ‘human rights resolution’ through the recent 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council. …The puppet forces were busy hailing the adoption of the ‘resolution’ and expressing “expectation.” They behaved ridiculously, talking rubbish about ‘recommendations.’ They, at the same time, revealed their design to allow the setting up of the UN ‘office on the human rights of the north’ in Seoul in the foreseeable days. There can never be any human rights issue under the Korean-style socialist system centered on the popular masses. The DPRK has already clarified that the opportunity of holding north-south dialogue and improving the inter-Korean relations has already been scuppered and there remains only the stand-off by force as the puppet forces have sparked off the campaign for escalating the confrontation with the fellow countrymen in the north. The recent confessions made by spies who had been on the payroll of the puppet Intelligence Service glaringly laid bare the criminal nature of the anti-DPRK ‘human rights’ campaign. This goes to prove truth that the DPRK can never sit at a negotiating table with the group of thrice-cursed traitors as they are keen to stifle it awake or asleep and that it should boldly retaliate against them with merciless punishment only. The DPRK will never pardon the puppet forces going reckless, seized by the wild ambition for ‘unification of social systems’ but strongly react against them. We have already issued a stern warning against the puppet group’s move to set up the above-said office in Seoul at any cost. This is not an empty talk.” (KCNA, “DPRK Will Resolutely Counter S. Korean Puppet Forces’ Anti-DPRK Moves: Rodong Sinmun,” April 2, 2015)

South Korea is still cautious about holding summit talks with North Korea on the occasion of the ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II, a Seoul official said. Both South Korean President Park Geun-hye and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have been invited. Kim is expected to attend but Park has not announced a decision yet. If both of them attend the ceremony, it would set the stage for another historic meeting between the leaders of the two Koreas amid drawn-out tensions on the peninsula. Conservative and progressive forces here are split over whether Park should accept Russia’s invitation. The senior official indicated a negative view within the administration. It’s a matter of whether Park can have a “substantive dialogue” when she meets with the North’s leader, he told reporters on background. “The government remains open to an inter-Korean summit any time. But we have said it should be held for a substantive dialogue,” he said. Some people say Park’s meeting with Kim, albeit brief, would be of significance itself but “we need to think about how meaningful it would be,” he added. On Pyongyang’s protest against the cross-border spread of propaganda leaflets, the official said there is no guarantee of resuming talks even if the South curbs the campaign. The official also stressed the need for developing the so-called Korean Peninsula Trust-Building Process aimed at building mutual trust and paving the way for re-unification. “The policy represents our will to make ceaseless efforts for a change in North Korea,” he said, adding that it takes two to tango. As to two South Korean men detained in the communist nation on espionage charges, he said that sending a special envoy to Pyongyang for their release is not a realistic option being considered. He cited the unique characteristics of inter-Korean ties. (Yonhap, “S. Korea Seems Negative about Inter-Korean Summit in Russia,” April 2, 2015)


4/3/15:
North Korea test-fired four short-range missiles into the West Sea on Friday in an apparent saber-rattling against the ongoing Seoul-Washington military exercise, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said. The North Korean military “launched four short-range projectiles presumed to have a range of some 140 kilometers into the West Sea in succession between 4:15 p.m. and 5 p.m. today from Dongchang-ri, North Pyongan Province,” the JCS said in a brief statement. Friday’s launch came after the bellicose regime’s test-firing of a rocket of the same kind the previous day, the JCS added, without further elaboration. “What the North fired are believed to be KN-02 ground-to-ship missiles, factoring in their range, speed and trajectory,” a JCS officer said on condition of anonymity. “Some of the rockets appear to have landed inland in its own territory, which is not usual.” Friday’s firing “appears to be the North’s provocations in opposition to the ongoing Seoul-Washington joint military exercise and civic groups’ move to launch anti-Pyongyang leaflets,” the JCS said. (Oh Seok-min, “N. Korea Fires 4 Short-Range Rockets into West Sea,” Yonhap, April 3, 2015)


4/5/15:
North Korea has declared a no-sail zone for its ships off its east coast, South Korean media reported, suggesting more missile launches are possible before the U.S. defense chief visits Seoul this week. It was not clear if the latest warning for ships to stay clear of an area off the Korean peninsula’s east coast was a direct indication of an imminent missile launch. “There are no signs of peculiar movements,” South Korean defence ministry deputy spokesman Na Seung-yong told a briefing. Na said a no-sail warning had not been sent to Seoul or the International Maritime Organization (IMO). (Reuters, “North Korea Declares No-Sail Zone, Missile Launch Seen as Possible — Reports,” April 6, 2015)


4/7/15:
North Korea has fired two surface-to-air missiles off its west coast, South Korea said, with the latest in a string of short-range firings by the North coming shortly before the US defense secretary arrived in the region. The two short-range missiles, South Korea’s defense ministry said, and followed the launch on April 3 of four short-range missiles off the west coast of North Korea. US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter arrived in Japan this afternoon and travels to South Korea on April 9, where he is expected to discuss a response to North Korea’s growing missile and nuclear threat. “It’s just a reminder of how tense things are on the Korean peninsula. That’s the reason I’m going,” Carter told reporters at Yokota air base in Japan before departing for South Korea. “If it was a welcoming message to me, I’m flattered.” A senior US official described the missile test as a provocative act ahead of Carter’s visit. “Their missile inventory is growing and their willingness to test those missiles appears to be growing as we’ve just seen today,” the official said. (Reuters, “N. Korea Fires Missiles into Sea as U.S. Defense Chief Visits Region,” April 9, 2015)

U.S. intelligence believes North Korea is capable of miniaturizing a nuclear weapon and putting it on its KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile, Adm. Bill Gortney, the head of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said. “Our assessment is that they have the ability to put a nuclear weapon on a KN-08 and shoot it at the homeland,” Gortney told reporters during a Pentagon briefing. “That is the way we think, and that’s our assessment of the process. “We haven’t seen them test the KN-08 yet and we’re waiting for them to do that, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will fly it before they test it,” he added. Even without seeing a test of a nuclear-capable KN-08, Gortney called it “prudent” to plan for the threat. Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, pointed out that there have been previous assessments, both from the US and South Korea, that the Kim regime could equip a KN-08 with a nuclear weapon. The challenge, he said, is getting that payload to be effective. “It’s not that hard to shrink it down, but what happens is you start to encounter reliability problems, especially if it’s got a ride on an ICBM,” Lewis said. Given that there are doubts in many sectors about whether a KN-08 could ever deliver a nuclear payload, Lewis said different parts of the national security apparatus have handled it differently. The Pentagon, he said, errs on the side of caution when discussing and planning for the threat. “I think they are getting the underlying intelligence assessments, which say they can make it small enough to fit on the missile,” Lewis said. “Then they have to go out and fend for themselves in public, and what else can they say? They can’t say North Korea can’t do this, because that’s not what the assessment says. So it wouldn’t surprise me they say they have to assume it works.” Gortney’s comments come as Secretary of Defense Ash Carter begins his first trip to Asia since he took office in February. Carter is spending two days in Japan before moving on to Seoul for talks that, Carter said in a speech yesterday, will “reinforce deterrence and improve capabilities on the peninsula to counteract an increasingly dangerous and provocative North Korea.” The proliferation of mobile ICBMs is an issue for missile defense systems as a whole, and Gortney acknowledged the cost curve for missile defense needs to drop for the future. To help drive prices down and keep up with current threats, Gortney would prefer to see the money Congress wants to spend on an East Coast missile defense network instead be reinvested into new technology development. “If I had one more dollar to do ballistic missile defense, I wouldn’t put it against the East Coast missile site,” he said. “I’d put it against those technologies that would allow us to get to the correct side of the cost curve in ballistic missile defense.” “It is a proliferating threat. It is growing. Countries are developing those capabilities, they can threaten their neighbors with power projection with that, and our current approach has us on the wrong side of the cost curve,” he continued. “So I would take those dollars and invest it in those necessary technologies.” (Aaron Mehta, “U.S.: N. Korean Nuclear ICBM Achievable,” Defense News, April 7, 2015)

Rodong Sinmun commentary: “Some days ago a spokesperson for the south Korean puppet Ministry of Unification, citing “achievements” one year since the chief executive made public the “Dresden declaration,” tried hard to mislead public opinion by claiming that the absence of any dialogue and process to improve the relations between the north and the south is attributable to the “north’s refusal to respond to it.” Earlier, mandarins of the ministry blustered that the “May 24 step” was taken for the security required for “normal development of the south-north relations.” …The litany of rhetoric let loose by the spokesperson to create impression that south Korea has made certain efforts to mend the inter-Korean relations over the past one year since the publication of the ridiculous declaration while advertising its implementation is nothing but profound confusing of the right and wrong. …The nonsense talked by the authorities about the “May 24 step” is no more than sheer sophism justifying their acts of pushing the inter-Korean relations to catastrophe. This kind of tongue-lashing only touches off derision of people. A wide avenue to improved inter-Korean relations and independent reunification can never be paved as long as the “May 24 step” aimed to totally block dialogue and cooperation between the north and the south remains in force. The frozen inter-Korean relations are a natural outcome of the confrontation policy deliberately pursued by the puppet regime in league with outside forces. The reality goes to prove that inter-Korean relations can neither improve nor can the nation escape a nuclear disaster as long as the south Korean authorities persist in their sycophancy towards the U.S. and confrontation of social systems while disregarding the call for achieving peace and reunification by the concerted efforts of the Koreans. The clumsy wordplay of the puppet forces to evade the blame for the frozen inter-Korean relations would only bring them shame and stronger criticism from the public at home and abroad.” (KCNA, “Rodong Sinmun Holds S. Korean Authorities Wholly Accountable for Frozen Inter-Korean Relations,” April 7, 2015)

Schilling and Kan: “Pyongyang’s current inventory of delivery systems, consisting largely of ballistic missiles with some light bombers, is reliable and nominally able to reach most targets in Northeast Asia. Moreover, it is comparatively more advanced than most countries at a similar early stage in the development of their nuclear arsenals. …North Korea may already be able to deploy a Taepodong-2 ICBM—essentially a three-stage military version of the Unha space launch vehicle (SLV) that could carry a 500-1,000 kg warhead 10,000-15,000 km, far enough to reach the US mainland—in an “emergency operational status.” However, such a weapon would represent more of a political statement than an operational capability since it would suffer from potentially significant problems including: low reliability given the very limited number of tests of its SLV counterpart and the high percentage of failures—three out of four flights; vulnerability to a preemptive strike since it would probably be deployed at an above-ground facility; and a limited ability to operationally deploy a relatively advanced reentry vehicle due to lack of testing—the weapon would probably have to use a crude and highly-inaccurate blunt body reentry vehicle (RV) similar to those on early American ICBMs (the Thor and Atlas systems) in the 1950s, making it more vulnerable to missile defenses. …The overwhelming majority of North Korea’s delivery systems are about 1,000 ballistic missiles based on old Soviet technology. The backbone of its current deterrent is the Nodong medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) with a range of 1,200-1,500 km that can reach any target in South Korea and most of Japan. While mobile and probably capable of cross-country travel, the Nodong can also be tucked away in one of the North’s many underground tunnels and bunkers. Based on early 1960s Soviet technology, it is an effective, reliable weapon accurate enough to hit within one or two kilometers of targets, enough to destroy cities, ports or military bases. In addition to the North’s large stockpile of old shorter-range Scud missiles able to carry a nuclear payload 300-600 km, Pyongyang has begun to field the newer KN-02 Toksa solid-fuel, road-mobile missile. Derived from a 1980s vintage Soviet weapon and probably available in only limited numbers, the shorter-range Toksa is a more responsive, accurate and mobile system by virtue of its solid fuel. The older Soviet model was able to carry nuclear, chemical and conventional warheads, but it remains unclear whether the Toksa is intended for the nuclear mission. Finally, North Korea’s up to 60 Il-28 light bombers built to a 1950s Soviet design would be a capable delivery system. Individual airplanes would have significant trouble penetrating modern air defenses, but with the element of surprise or attacking in large numbers, a few could possibly penetrate to their targets. The Il-28 might also be able to reach American installations on Guam, the site of a major air base and logistics hub currently out of range of North Korea’s missiles, on a one-way mission. However, such an attack would be detected far in advance by US, Japanese and ROK air defenses. North Korea appears to have an ambitious development program focusing on a number of new systems including: KN-08 road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM): Development of this missile began in the late 1990s or early 2000s. While the KN-08 design is original to North Korea, it likely incorporates technologies from the Musudan IRBM and Unha SLV. The KN-08’s interior configuration is still subject to speculation. Recent analysis7 suggests a range of 7,500-9,000 km, enabling it to reach the West Coast of the United States carrying a warhead package of 500-700 kg. Accuracy would likely be barely adequate to target large cities, mobility would be limited to paved roads, and the system will require 1-2 hours for pre-launch fueling. Some analysts believe the KN-08 is part of North Korea’s strategic deception effort since it has not been flight tested but there are reports of ground testing of the missile’s first-stage engines. The KN-08 may achieve an “emergency operational status” by 2020 before or with very limited flight testing. Large liquid-fueled space launch vehicle: Pyongyang has announced its intention to build an SLV larger than its existing Unha SLV over the next five years. Moreover, beginning in late 2013, the North embarked on a year-long program to upgrade the launch gantry at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station to handle a new larger rocket. While probably intended to place larger satellites into higher orbits, the new SLV may also contribute to the further development of the North’s long-range missile program through the testing of common technologies such as high-energy rocket engines, guidance system components and even reentry vehicles (in a sub-orbital mode). A new SLV might also serve as an interim ICBM, supplementing or replacing any deployed Taepodongs. Musudan road-mobile intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM): Pyongyang appears to be moving towards the deployment of this single-stage missile, a slightly longer variant of the old Soviet SS-N-6 sea-launched ballistic missile that incorporates technology from that system.9 With a range of 2,500-3,500 km, depending on the weight of its warhead (500-1,000 kilograms), the missile could reach all of East Asia, including important American bases on Guam and Okinawa. While some experts claim the Musudan is also a strategic deception since the system has not yet been flight tested, it seems more likely that it is a work in progress. Indeed, there have been reports that the missile may have already been deployed.Moreover, during the 2013 crisis on the peninsula, media reports indicated that the Musudan had been spotted in the field, possibly preparing for a flight test although such a test never took place. New solid-fuel missiles: The Toksa SRBM could serve as a test bed for the development of longer-range, solid-fuel missiles, possibly to replace the Scud, that would have distinct advantages—greater mobility and the ability to launch within minutes—over Pyongyang’s current liquid-fueled inventory. North Korea already has extensive experience producing small solid-fuel rockets. Moreover, in mid-2014, it conducted a series of tests of an extended-range Toksa able to fly 160-200 km. However, it is unclear whether those tests reflect the use of a higher-energy solid propellant, a lightening of the missile’s payload or flying the weapon at minimum energy trajectories. Cooperation with Iran, which has already developed such missiles, may represent a more promising alternative path for North Korea. Sea-launched land-attack missiles: Commercial satellite imagery, ROK official statements and other press reports indicate that Pyongyang may be developing a capability to launch ballistic or cruise missiles from surface or cargo ships and from submarines.12 In the near term, Pyongyang might be able to develop the ability to launch existing short-range cruise or ballistic missiles from sea-based platforms. However, development and deployment of longer-range weapons, particularly submarine-launched ballistic missiles may still be years away. Sea-based land-attack missiles would increase the survivability of North Korea’s nuclear forces, expand its threat to South Korea, Japan and US bases in East Asia and complicate missile defense planning since a mobile platform would be able to attack targets from any direction. Unconventional delivery options: North Korea could attempt to deliver nuclear weapons covertly. Doing so, however, would have significant drawbacks, particularly the requirement for a pre-delegation of authority to use the weapon down to the small unit level that would be contrary to the expected preferences of an authoritarian North Korean regime. Two possibilities could be: (1) The placement of nuclear devices on the Korean peninsula in narrow invasion routes leading into the North in order to block and stun invading forces. In the short term, this approach seems unrealistic since the number of devices needed to accomplish this objective could exceed the North’s current small arsenal; and (2) The covert delivery of a nuclear weapon by container ship is also possible given the North’s history of using merchant vessels to deploy special operations forces around the world dating back to the 1970s. However, this option also seems implausible because of concerns over command and control as well as the North’s lack of commercial interaction with most potential target countries and the dangers of discovery beforehand. Future Developments: Significant Hurdles Must Be Overcome Delivery systems that appear to be under development are an important indicator of North Korea’s objectives for the future of its force. If the North continues to move down this road, it will likely focus on the following improvements. Increase range, accuracy and reliability: North Korea’s nuclear delivery systems suffer from limitations in all three areas. While its current systems are capable of reaching most regional targets, improvements in range would allow the North to reach new ones outside the immediate theater, such as Guam, Okinawa, Hawaii or the West Coast of the United States. Better accuracy would open up the possibility of attacking a larger target set beyond soft targets such as cities or large military bases. Improving reliability would provide greater confidence that the missiles would reach and destroy their targets. In this context, testing—ground, but especially flight testing—will play a critical role, particularly if the North is seeking to deploy more sophisticated delivery systems using high-performance engines and high-speed reentry vehicles. Indeed, testing missiles equipped with these technologies will require establishing a limited infrastructure, such as including downrange ships to monitor data, that may prove challenging. Increase survivability: Given the limited size of Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal, increasing survivability is essential to withstanding preemptive strikes and to providing significant retaliatory responses. The North’s current delivery systems—largely focused on mobile liquid-fueled Nodong MRBMs—would prove difficult to destroy in a preemptive strike. Nevertheless, Pyongyang could take a number of steps to improve survivability, including: 1) basing any Taepodong ICBMs in hardened silos rather than on an above-ground launch pad; 2) deploying solid-fueled missiles that allow full off-road mobility and the ability to launch with a few minutes’ notice; and 3) basing on ships or submarines that are more difficult to track. Diversify delivery systems: Diversification of different basing modes—the underlying principle of the US strategic triad of air, land and sea-based weapons—would complicate any effort to launch a preemptive strike, since destroying systems in a short time frame would prove extremely difficult. Second, diversification of different delivery systems could provide greater flexibility/options for the use of nuclear weapons whether on the battlefield, in the theater or directly against the United States. Achieve greater self-sufficiency: While Pyongyang has built a strong indigenous capability to deploy missiles, largely based on Russian technology and assistance, it has not yet proven itself able to replicate advanced components acquired from abroad, such as Russian high-energy propellant engines, or to move beyond these technologies. In contrast, Iran, Pakistan and other countries with active missile programs have developed more advanced designs, including long-range solid-fueled rockets. The challenges Pyongyang faces in developing new delivery systems over the next five years and beyond are likely to be greater than those encountered in its nuclear program, where basic designs and production infrastructure are already largely in place. These challenges could result in slower than anticipated progress or even the cancellation of weapons systems under development. Particularly important will be North Korea’s ability to overcome technological and engineering hurdles that more advanced industrialized countries would find daunting. In this context, since the North is not self-sufficient in missile production, the level of foreign assistance could be a critical factor determining how much progress Pyongyang is able to make in critical technologies such as high-performance liquid-fuel engines, solid-fuel rocket motors, high-speed heat shields and reentry vehicles, guidance electronics, sophisticated machine tools and high-strength, lightweight materials. Experienced engineers may also help the DPRK surmount technical hurdles. While Pyongyang has been successful in securing foreign assistance in the past, whether that can continue remains unclear. Despite all these potential hurdles, it is worth noting that North Korea may have a far less demanding definition of “success” in the development of new missiles than countries like the United States, whose systems are extensively tested before becoming operational to ensure a high degree of reliability. Other small, emerging nuclear powers have had the same view of new missile delivery systems, deploying them with few flight tests or even though they have experienced technical problems. This practice highlights another important consideration for North Korea (and these other countries), namely that deployments of new delivery systems, even if not fully tested, can have an important political purpose in sending deterrence signals to potential adversaries.” (John Schilling and Henry Kan, The Future of North Korean Delivery Systems, U.S.-Korea Institute, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Washington, April 7, 2015)


4/8/15:
The United Nations has called for $111 million to fund crucial humanitarian needs this year in North Korea, which it said remains drastically under-funded. Funding for U.N. agencies in North Korea fell from $300 million in 2004 to less than $50 million in 2014 and the country urgently needs money for food and agriculture, health and nutrition, and water and sanitation programs, the world body said. “(North) Korea is both a silent and under-funded humanitarian situation,” Ghulam Isaczai, U.N. resident coordinator for North Korea, said in a statement released late on Wednesday. “Protracted and serious needs for millions of people are persistent and require sustained funding.” About 70 percent of North Koreans are food insecure and almost one third of children under five are stunted, the United Nations said in its report on North Korea “Humanitarian needs and priorities 2015”, released before the funding appeal. (Magdalena Mis, “U.N. Calls for $111 Million for Crucial Aid for Nporth Korea,” Reuters, April 9, 2015)

North Korea said that Mexico had “forcibly detained” one of its ships for months after the vessel ran aground in the Gulf of Mexico, and the North blamed the United States for blocking the ship’s release. But the coordinator of a United Nations panel of experts said that the ship, the Mu Du Bong, was owned by a North Korean company that was under United Nations sanctions and should be “frozen” and that the panel had received excellent cooperation from Mexico in tracking the company and its assets. “In the case of the Mu Du Bong, the evidence is overwhelming,” the panel’s coordinator, Hugh Griffiths, wrote in an email. The United Nations sanctions were imposed in response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. Sanctions were imposed on the ship’s owner, the Ocean Maritime Management Company, in July after the Panamanian authorities found two Cuban fighter jets, missiles and live munitions beneath a cargo of sugar in another ship the company operated. The company responded by renaming 13 of its 14 vessels in an effort to avoid detection, the panel reported in February. North Korea has a history of using front companies for that purpose. None of the ships had been frozen by United Nations member states as recommended, the panel had said at the time. North Korea’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations said today that his country would take unspecified “necessary measures to make the ship leave immediately.” The diplomat, An Myong-hun, said the Mu Du Bong was strictly a commercial ship. He denied that it was carrying anything prohibited by the United Nations sanctions and said it had no relationship with Ocean Maritime Management. An also said that the Mexican authorities in January had decided to release the ship but “suddenly” revoked the decision. The United Nations panel’s report said experts had informed the Mexican authorities that the ship was an Ocean Maritime Management asset. The ship ran aground in July and damaged nearly an acre of coral reefs. The North Korean Embassy in Mexico was asked to post a $770,000 bond for any damage assessment. Mr. An said his country had paid the necessary fees and had “no legal obligation” to wait to move the ship. Ricardo Alday, political coordinator for Mexico’s mission to the United Nations, said in an email that Mexico was not forcibly detaining the ship and that his country was fulfilling its international obligations. He said the 33 North Korean crew members “have absolute freedom of movement” and sleep in a hotel in the port of Tuxpan, where the ship is anchored. (Associated Press, “North Korea Blames U.S. for Blocking Release of Ship Held by Mexico,” April 8, 2015)


4/9/15:
South Korean police prevent activists Park Sang-hak and members of his group, Fighters for a Free North Korea, from launching balloons delivering ‘The Interview’ into North Korea. Chosun Ilbo reported that the activists had been looking to launch balloons containing 300,000 leaflets and 100,000 copies of “The Interview” on DVDs and USB sticks. (Steven Borowiec, “South Korean Police Halt ‘The Interview’ Balloon Drop,” Los Angeles Times, April 10, 2015) Anti-North Korea activist Park Sang-hak said that he launched balloons on April 15 carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets and DVDs of the U.S. movie “The Interview,” a U.S. fictional comedy about a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. “Last night, other activists and I flew anti-Pyongyang leaflets to the North that I was supposed to send last week,” Park said. “I will continue to fly leaflets to the North.” Park made an attempt to do so last week, but was scuttled by police. (Yonhap, “Activists Resume Anti-N. Korea Leaflet Campaign,” April 16, 2015)

A bill now making its way through the U.S. Congress — and being watched closely in Pyongyang — is designed to shut off the North, and anyone who deals with it, from the dollar. Supporters say the tactic directly targets the wallets of North Korea’s senior leaders. But opponents warn that over-politicizing the greenback might have more impact on its standing as the world’s most influential reserve currency than on a country already largely excluded from international finance. The House bill would block dollar-denominated trade or investment deals with North Korea as they pass through the U.S. controlled, dollar-based financial system. The vast majority of all international financial transactions are denominated in dollars and nearly all of them are cleared through U.S.-based banks, which are regulated by the Treasury Department. That gives Washington its leverage. The bill would punish North Korea’s enablers by limiting their access to the dollar-based financial market, even on business that doesn’t involve North Korea. “By shutting down North Korea’s illicit activities, we deprive the Kim regime of the money it needs to pay the generals and to conduct nuclear weapons research,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., said after the act was introduced in February. He said the act, updated after the massive cyberattack on Sony Entertainment, would “step up the targeting of those financial institutions in Asia and beyond that are supporting this brutal and dangerous regime.” A sanctions bill is also planned in the Senate, but President Obama’s administration remains wary of new legislation that would make future negotiations with Pyongyang more difficult, or open up a new fight with China, which is where most of the potentially sanctionable banks would likely be. Obama already has authority to take some action, and has used it. After pointing the finger at North Korea for the cyberattack on Sony Pictures, he took executive action allowing the U.S. to sanction any entity, including a foreign bank, working with the North. Treasury officials say their problem isn’t the lack of power, but the dearth of targets. (Eric Talmadge, “Dollar May Be the Next Screw for U.S. to Tighten on North Korea,” Associated Press, April 9, 2015)

DPRK Institute for Disarmament and Peace: “…The two sides of Korea have traveled along different paths of development, maintaining different ideologies and political systems for almost 70 years since the division. Neither of them wants to abandon their respective ideologies and systems, although reunification remains their common aspiration. Under this stark reality, if one side tries to force its ideology and system on the other, it will bring about a war, severely threatening peace and stability in Northeast Asia. …The north and the south agreed on improved inter-Korean relations and the reunification formula set out in the June 15 Joint Declaration and the October 4 Declaration. They are, in a nutshell, improving inter-Korean relations and achieving national reunification peacefully while leaving the two different systems intact. When the north and the south resolve the reunification issue according to this formula, it will promote regional peace and stability by turning the Korean Peninsula, the hot-spot zone in Northeast Asia, into a buffer zone. In terms of the politico-military aspect, it has been rigidly viewed that only when the armistice is terminated and a peace mechanism is established on the Korean Peninsula could the hostility be ended and reunification be achieved. However, if reunification through coexistence of systems is promoted by the north and the south, the armistice and hostility will naturally recede and a peaceful environment will follow. Reunification through coexistence of systems inevitably gives birth to a neutral state. The process of guaranteeing the neutral position of neighboring countries will disintegrate the confrontational security structure, forming a peace-promising one in Northeast Asia. In terms of the economic aspect, this format will create tremendous benefits not only for the Korean Peninsula, but also Northeast Asia as a whole. Recently, many region-wide initiatives of bilateral and multilateral economic cooperation projects can be found. They are aimed at moves to connect railways, roads, gas pipelines, electric power networks and the development of energy, natural resources, seaports, special economic zones and environment cooperation. Of course, these initiatives require the stable development of inter-Korean relations on the Korean Peninsula. Therefore, promoting peaceful reunification through the coexistence of systems agreed upon by the two Koreas will satisfy the demands for regional cooperation so that the peninsula and the region will get off to a flying start. It will further serve other regional member states, including Europe, by providing chances for economic cooperation around the Korean Peninsula. Consequently, smooth resolution of the reunification issue according to the formula agreed upon by the north and the south is a well-balanced resolution in favor of the peaceful environment on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, so as to push and enlarge regional economic cooperation. These points prove the validity of the reunification ideas clarified by the respected 1st Chairman Kim Jong Un of the National Defense Commission of the DPRK in his 2015 New Year’s address. He stated that the north and the south should refrain from seeking system confrontation and from absolutizing their ideology and system, instead satisfactorily resolving the reunification issue in the common interests of the nation, transcending differences in ideology as they have already agreed to do. Reunification through system coexistence is the only way to resolve the Korean issue peacefully and reasonably. When this is realized, the world will give its blessing and credit to the wisdom and dignity of the Korean nation.” (Kim Ye Jin, “A Well-Balanced Approach to eace and Security on the Korean Peninsula,” DPRK Institute for Disarmament and Peace, April 9, 2015)


4/10/15:
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said his country is not ready to begin discussions on the possible deployment of its advanced missile defense system on the Korean Peninsula. “THAAD was not on the agenda today … This is the program that is in production in the U.S.,” Carter told a joint press conference here with South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo. Citing a series of steps to be taken before the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery, Carter said, “We are not at a point yet of determining where it might be suitably deployed in the future … We are not a point where we will begin discussions with anyone around the world.” Whether the U.S. chief will bring up the issue during his first face-to-face meeting with Han has drawn key attention here amid heated controversy at home and abroad with opposition from China and Russia. Washington has expressed its willingness to deploy the battery here to better protect South Korea and some 28,000 U.S. troops from North Korea’s threats, though officials of the two sides have said no official consultations or decisions have taken place on the matter. As an integral part of the U.S.-led missile defense system, THAAD is designed to shoot down short, medium and intermediate ballistic missiles at a higher altitude in their terminal phase using a hit-to-kill method. Carter instead stressed Washington’s plan to deploy its cutting-edge weapons in the Asia-Pacific region. “Our newest things, best things are being deployed in this part of the world,” he said, citing such examples as new stealth bombers and new classes of naval vessels. “That is the biggest part of our rebalance (to Asia).” “If history serves as any guide, I think chances are always high for North Korea to be provocative in case it fails to achieve its strategic goals,” Han said, though he added that the allies have not confirmed any imminent signs of Pyongyang’s additional nuclear tests and missile launches. Stressing that Pyongyang is “intent on continued provocations” by making good on its nuclear and ballistic missile threats, Carter said the U.S. “is committed to stability in the region and the combined defense of the Republic of Korea.” “On the peninsula, the deterrence and readiness are at a premium. So we are investing advanced capabilities to make sure that our top new investments are tailored to this dynamic security environment,” he said, vowing to continue to stage Seoul-Washington joint exercises. After the press conference, the two chiefs visited the Navy’s 2nd Fleet Command to pay tribute to South Korean sailors who died in the sinking of the country’s warship, Cheonan. The Cheonan case is “a solemn reminder of the threat that North Korea poses to our alliance,” Carter said, underlining that the allies stand ready to respond that threat accordingly. Carter is the first U.S. defense minister to have visited the memorial. “We have a lot of respect for historical legacy issues in this region and we think it’s important,” the top Pentagon official said, while making it clear that the U.S. will not “interpose itself between the parties here.” He also watered down his call on the U.S., South Korea and Japan to “look forward to the future” as “the potential gains of cooperation … outweigh yesterday’s tension and today’s politics.” He made the remarks in an interview with Yomiuri Shimbun ahead of his Asian trip, which flared up strong opposition from South Koreans who still have painful memories of Japan’s harsh 1910-45 colonial rule. “In speaking of the future, I was referring to the agreements to share information in the future among the three militaries, which I think has a great promise for the security of all of us,” Carter said, stressing that he “was not referring to the past.” (Oh Seok-min, “Carter: U.S. Not Ready to Discuss THAAD Deployment in S. Korea,” Yonhap, April 10, 2015) Adm. Samuel Locklear, Commander of the US Pacific Command, said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on April 16 that the US was “in discussions about potential deployment of an additional THAAD [Terminal High-altitude Area Defense] battery, beyond the one that’s in Guam, but on the Korean Peninsula.” Also present at the hearing was USFK Commander Curtis Scaparrotti, who fielded a question from Republican Senator Deb Fischer on whether South Korea and US were pursuing a THAAD deployment at the risk of Chinese objections. “The decision process is under way right now,” Scaparrotti said in response. He later added that while he could only discuss the issue from a military standpoint, South Korea and the US were currently considering the possible effects of a THAAD battery deployment on the Korean Peninsula in terms of political and strategic aspects. The views expressed at the hearing differed from those voiced just a week before in a press conference following an April 10 meeting between the South Korean Minister of National Defense Han Min-koo and US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, who said the THAAD program was still “in production” in the US. (Park Hyun, “U.S. Commanders’ Comments Contradict Previous Government Statements on THAAD Deployment,” Hankyore, April 18, 2015)

South Korea’s vice defense minister dismissed an assessment from a senior U.S. military official that North Korea is able to mount a nuclear weapon on a missile that could threaten the U.S. mainland. The comments from Baek Seung-joo mark a high-level public split over the level of North Korea’s threat as Washington considers a request to put a new missile defense system in South Korea. Adm. William Gortney, head of the U.S. Northern Command, said last week that North Korea is capable of mounting a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile known as the KN-08. “Our assessment is that they have the ability to put a nuclear weapon on a KN-08 and shoot it at the homeland,” he said during a Pentagon press briefing.Baek, who spoke at a news conference in Seoul, said Adm. Gortney’s remarks were “not made with a thorough assessment of North Korea’s capabilities.” A defense ministry spokesman confirmed that Seoul’s official position is that while North Korea has made progress in reducing the size of a nuclear device, it hasn’t yet made one small enough to mount on a missile. The Pentagon stood behind Adm. Gortney’s assessment of North Korea’s capabilities and said that the admiral’s views were in line with the U.S. view that it needed to plan for the worst-case scenario. “The U.S. government assessment has not changed,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Pool, a Pentagon spokesman. “As the admiral noted, we have not seen North Korea test or demonstrate the ability to miniaturize a nuclear weapon and put it on an ICBM.” Even so, he said, “given the consequences of getting it wrong, it is prudent for a military planner to plan for the worst.” The assessment of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency that North Korea could be capable of putting a nuclear warhead on a missile was revealed publicly in 2013. Col. Pool downplayed the differences with South Korea, which the Pentagon frequently calls the Republic of Korea or ROK. “We continue to work with the ROK to improve our understanding [of] the North Korean and missile threat and will continue to consult on ways to strengthen our comprehensive alliance responses to the threat to the alliance,” he said. The disagreement over the level of North Korea’s nuclear threat could complicate any discussions on introducing Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery, or THAAD, in South Korea. Washington has conducted a site survey in South Korea for possible sites for a Thaad battery but the allies have had no official talks on a deployment, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said on Friday during a visit to South Korea. Baek said Seoul has completed a review of the effectiveness of THAAD but declined to specify the results. He said South Korea was also reviewing its own missile defense capabilities. Seoul has long preferred to develop its own missile defense systems and has come under pressure recently to reject THAAD, apparently due to Beijing’s concerns that it could also be aimed at restraining China. “We hope that China’s concerns and worries [about Thaad] will be respected,” Chinese assistant foreign minister Liu Jianchao said to reporters on a recent visit to Seoul. Many analysts are skeptical of North Korea’s claims through its state media that it is able to threaten the U.S. mainland with a nuclear weapon delivered by a ballistic missile. U.S. military figures mostly say that North Korea does have that ability but there is no overall consensus. (Alistair Gale, “Seoul, U.S. Split on North Korea Nuclear Threat,” Wall Street Journal, April 13, 2015)


4/14/15:
Rodong Sinmun commentary: “Shortly ago, the south Korean chief executive, when meeting with a delegation of the U.S House of Representatives, talked rubbish that the “nuclear issue of the north” is a big “threat to security” and a “serious destabilizing factor” of posing a threat to the peace in Northeast Asia and the world and the north is following the “road of isolation, rejecting changes” and the “unification” of the Korean peninsula is “a solution to the nuclear issue of the north.” Yun Pyong Se, south Korean puppet foreign minister, grumbled that the “north is refusing the dialogue for denuclearization while sticking to the line of simultaneously developing the two fronts. …Their utterances [are] rigmarole and sophism that can be let loose only by stooges of the U.S. bereft of any elementary national self-respect and ability to judge the situation. The puppet group should repent of the crimes it perpetrated by staging ceaseless nuclear war drills against the north in collusion with outside forces, spawning the nuclear issue on the peninsula and blocking its solution before talking about the “threat” from the north. …It is the height of folly for the puppet group to work hard to eliminate the nuclear deterrent of the DPRK.The puppet group’s reckless moves for achieving “unification of social systems” will only result in the miserable end of the U.S. corrupt colonial ruling system and “liberal democracy.” They should stop dreaming of the north’s “dismantlement of nukes.” The DPRK’s denuclearization will never happen unless the U.S. hostile policy toward it is rolled back and the latter’s nuclear threat to the former defused and the world is free from nukes. (KCNA, “Rodong Sinmun Slams S. Korean Authorities’ Moves to Eliminate DPRK’s Nuclear Deterrence,” April 14, 2015)


4/15/15:
South Korea and the U.S. agreed to establish an operational plan to destroy North Korea’s road-mobile launchers to better cope with the communist regime’s evolving nuclear and missile threats. To craft the plan, the allies launched the “Deterrence Strategy Committee,” a body that combines the two existing military consultation bodies ― Extended Deterrence Policy Committee and Counter Missile Capability Committee. These decisions were made during the two-day Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue, a biannual security meeting between the allies.

South Korean Deputy Defense Minister Yoo Jeh-seung and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretaries David Helvey and Elaine Bunn signed the bilateral agreement to launch the DSC tasked with developing the allies’ antimissile operational concept into a concrete operational plan. “The allies have so far discussed how to respond to North Korea’s possible nuclear and missile attacks at a conceptual level,” said a Seoul official on condition of anonymity. “But we have decided to create an operational plan that involves concrete military procedures.” The official added that the operational plan would aim to strengthen the efficacy and capabilities of the U.S.’ extended deterrence by mobilizing its conventional strike capabilities as well as the nuclear umbrella. At the DSC, the allies will focus on developing the so-called “4D” concept, the allies’ proactive defense concept. The 4D stands for “detect, defense, disrupt and destroy” ― the four major steps to handle Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile attacks. The “detect” represents the allies’ procedures to track North Korea’s missile movements with various intelligence-gathering assets, while the “defense” refers to a set of the allied defensive operations to minimize any damage from potential attacks. The “disrupt” means striking North Korea’s core missile facilities including supporting installations, while the “destroy” refers to the allies’ efforts to demolish the North’s mobile launchers, called TEL (transporter erector launcher), and incoming missiles. “Through the operation of the DSC, the allies will be able to effectively deter and respond to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, based on the 4D concept and the tailored deterrence strategy,” said Seoul’s Defense Ministry in a press release. “The DSC will also help enhance interoperability of the allied forces, and make it possible for the allies to more systematically utilize America’s capabilities ― both on the peninsula and outside it ― and South Korea’s Kill Chain and KAMD capabilities.” The Kill Chain and KAMD are Seoul’s preemptive strike system and Korea Air and Missile Defense system, both of which are under development. Launched in 2011, KIDD is a comprehensive defense meeting between the allies that integrates the four existing consultative meetings ― the Security Policy Initiative, Extended Deterrence Policy Committee, Strategic Alliance 2015 Working Group and Counter Missile Capability Committee. The EDPC and CMCC were merged to launch the DSC. (Song Sang-ho, “Korea, U.S. to Devise Plan to Negate N.K. Launchers,” Korea Herald, April 16, 2015)


4/16/15:
Despite international pressure to abandon its nuclear weapons program, North Korea’s defense minister said that its possession of nuclear bombs is the direct result of the hostile policy by the United States and is aimed at eliminating its nuclear threat. Hyon Yong-chol, the chief of North Korea’s People’s Armed Forces, said at an international security conference in Moscow that his country will continue to build up military capabilities including nuclear deterrence. Minister Hyon said, “When the Korean nuclear issue was nonexistent, the U.S. never replied to our proposal to conclude a peace agreement between the DPRK and the U.S.” “If Washington had agreed to conclude a relevant deal, if they did not foment the nuclear threat in relation to our country, the issue of the DPRK’s possession of nuclear weapons would not have emerged at all,” he said. “Today the DPRK’s nuclear weapons are a strong deterrence power, it’s strategic balance guaranteeing peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in the entire region,” the minister said. “The aggressive nature of the United States has not changed, and it is only possible to defend oneself, frustrate attempts of interference by external forces in domestic affairs by strong military power,” he said. “In other words: the DPRK’s possession of nuclear weapons is the result of a hostile policy and nuclear threat on the part of the U.S. Their strategy is aimed at deposition and suffocation of our state system,” the minister said. Hyon said that the United States’ far-reaching aim is to overthrow the government of the DPRK and establish a monopolar world. “At the moment the threat to peace and the international community’s security is soaring with every single day,” he said. “The root cause of these misfortunes is violence, outright military intervention and threats from the United States and its satellites.” (Yonhap, “N. Korea’s defense Chief Renews Pledge to Cling to Nuclear Program,” North Korea Newsletter 359, April 23, 2015)

The United States still holds a hostile view of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, its belligerence, nuclear weapons and human rights abuses. But there is at least an openness to bringing the hermit state out of its reclusion. So when North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong paid a rare visit to Delhi this week, it was not surprising that India’s diplomatic engagement with Pyongyang was welcomed by the United States as a “positive development”.

Yong was in India for a three-day visit — the first by a North Korean foreign minister in at least 25 years — at the invitation of Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj. During the course of their talks, Yong sought more humanitarian assistance from India and reportedly asked Delhi to include Pyongyang in its Act East policy. India responded to the aid request positively, but raised concerns about the peace and stability in the Korean peninsula for the implementation of the Act East policy. An official from the US Army Pacific, or USARPAC, which commands the army in the Asia-Pacific region including North Korea, said India’s engagement with Pyongyang is a positive development and the US looks forward to learning from Delhi’s perspective. The official, who requested anonymity since he was not authorised to speak with the media, said that besides India, other democratic countries like Mongolia have opened their door to North Korea for engagement. “We need to share their perspectives as it can help us [the US] to improve our own understanding and perhaps approach towards North Korea,” the official said. He added that New Delhi’s view will be particularly important since the US regards India as a regional leader working towards stability and security in the Asia-Pacific. (Shweta Desai, “Why Is U.S. Pleased with India’s Outreach to North Korea?” Scroll.in, April 16, 2015)


4/20/15:
Russel: “Q: I have a question for Assistant Secretary Russel, please. China and the U.S. both have the objective of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but North Korea’s development continues apace and there’s a sense that this is not a top priority issue for the administration. Question to you is, how would you characterize the urgency of this situation? And what is the potential for U.S.-China cooperation to bring North Korea back to the standards they had agreed to some years ago, including the NPT? RUSSEL: Thank you. This is an issue of tremendous salience to the U.S. government and to our national security. It’s something that I know firsthand President Obama, the vice president, the national security adviser, the secretary and other Cabinet officials, as well as myself, are very focused on and work hard on. It will require some level of cooperation from the North Koreans for there to be the kind of negotiations that are essential to a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear and missile program. There are other paths to resolution that are pretty messy. But to get a peaceful resolution, we need to negotiate. North Korea is, thus far, unwilling to negotiate The Chinese, who have tremendous leverage over North Korea, also have tremendous fears of a messy implosion or collapse. And they’re very direct with us in saying that they’re looking for a middle ground that maintains pressure sufficient to convince Kim Jong-un that, as hopefully the supreme leader in Iran is concluding, that this nuclear path is a dead end, but that there is an alternative path that will lead to not only sanctions relief, but also normalization and the wholesale improvement of relations, which will in turn lead to real regime stability. We’re trying. Now, in the meantime, since the one thing we can’t control is Kim Jong-un’s decision-making, what we can control is some of the environment that can shape that. We are working very closely with the Chinese, but from the base of trilateral cooperation with Japan and the ROK to try to sharpen the choice for Jim Jong-un and reduce the options to allow him to have his cake, a nuclear program, and eat it, too, to be able to provide the wherewithal that any authoritarian dictatorship needs in order to maintain regime loyalty and stability. It is very much on our minds. It’s very high on our agenda. And pending success in bringing North Korea to meaningful negotiations that have a chance of getting back to and implementing the commitments that North Korea already made, we’re maintaining strong, allied unity, close coordination with China and, I dare say, even with Russia. But we’re also maintaining very strong deterrence.” (Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, “Perspectives on the Rebalance,” Council on Foreign Relations, New York, April 20, 2015)


4/21/15:
The U.S. envoy to the moribund six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program said progress in negotiations with Iran clearly demonstrates a U.S. willingness to negotiate a resolution of the nuclear standoff with Pyongyang (DPRK). Speaking at the Washington D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), U.S. envoy Sydney Seiler said the North Korean leadership faces two choices: the path to denuclearization and prosperity or its current approach of ignoring its international obligations and deepening isolation. He said Washington has left the door of negotiation open to Pyongyang six years after the North Koreans walked out of the talks with the United States, Japan, South Korea, Russia and China in 2009. “Progress in our nuclear talks with Iran clearly demonstrates our willingness to engage countries with whom the United States has had longstanding differences,” he said. “And there should be no doubt we remain committed to negotiations and a negotiated resolution of the DPRK nuclear issue on the basis of the 2005 Joint Statement of the six-party talks the fundamental roadmap for achieving the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.” (Victor Beattie, “U.S. Envoy: Iran Nuclear Talks Prove U.S. Willing to Engage N. Korea,” VOA, April 22, 2015)

After a mere 63 days on the job, Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo expressed his intention to step down over a payoff scandal last night, leaving the president with the big challenge of finding a successor. The Prime Minister’s Office said today that Lee offered his intention to resign to President Park Geun-hye on Monday night. Park is in the middle of a 12-day Latin America trip. She is expected to accept the resignation when she returns to Korea April 27. Expressing concerns about affairs of state during her absence, Park urged the cabinet and presidential secretariat to perform their jobs properly, according to a statement from the Blue House released in Lima, Peru. “It is a pity and I can feel the agony of the prime minister,” Park was quoted as saying. “The prosecution should clearly shed light on everything by conducting a thorough investigation.” The president’s remarks, an obvious acceptance of the resignation, came about five hours after Lee expressed an intention to step down. Park named Lee, a politician who built his career in the Chungcheong region by climbing his way up from police chief in the small village of Hongseong, as prime minister in February after a series of botched nominations for the post. The former South Chungcheong governor, who also served three terms in the legislature, has been implicated in a snowballing scandal over payoffs by Sung Wan-jong, a construction tycoon-turned-politician who committed suicide earlier this month as he was being investigated for corruption. After assuming the post on February 17, 2015, Lee issued a grand statement in March to champion the Park government’s war against corruption. That prompted a probe into Sung and his company’s alleged bilking of state investments in overseas resources development projects. Complaining that he was being made a political scapegoat, Sung dropped a series of bombshell revelations about years of money dealings with top politicians and committed suicide on April 9. Describing Lee as “greedy,” Sung said he gave 30 million won ($27,668) to Lee in 2013. Lee vehemently denied the charge, but the prosecution and media uncovered evidence to prove otherwise. Before leaving for Latin America April16, President Park sat down with the leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, Kim Moo-sung, and said she would decide the fate of the embattled prime minister after her return. Lee, however, could not endure growing pressures as the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) threatened to introduce a motion for his dismissal in the National Assembly this week. “I highly respect Lee’s agonizing decision,” Kim said. “It’s regretful that a political fight flared too intensively.” The opposition NPAD welcomed Lee’s decision, calling it the “start of a fair investigation.” “Lee made the right decision,” Moon Jae-in, NPAD chairman, said. “This is not about his personal corruption. This is a matter of the Park administration’s integrity and legitimacy. Park can only regain the public trust by demonstrating her strong will to remove all the festering problems.” Even before her inauguration, Park struggled with prime minister nominations. So far, Park named five people to the job but only two of them, including Lee, actually survived National Assembly hearings to serve as prime minister. After winning the December 2012 presidential election, Park nominated Kim Yong-joon as her first prime minister in January 2013. Days after, he gave up the nomination due to his sons’ alleged draft-dodging and the family’s real estate speculation. Chung Hong-won was nominated and passed a confirmation hearing to become the first prime minister for the Park government in February 2013. Although Chung offered to step down last year in the aftermath of the Sewol ferry’s sinking and the government’s botched attempts to rescue more than 300 passengers, Park had to keep him as two nominees — Ahn Dae-hee and Moon Chang-keuk — dropped out due to scandals. Then she appointed Lee. NPAD senior lawmaker Jung Chung-rae said today that Park must create a nonpartisan cabinet by appointing the next prime minister from outside her inner circle. “Among Park associates, will there be anyone clean?” Jung asked in an interview with CBS radio. “I think she should receive recommendations from the opposition party or civic groups to form a nonpartisan cabinet.” Following its successful political campaign to go after the prime minister, the NPAD also demanded the heads of more top Park administration officials. “Resignation of the prime minister is not the end but is just a beginning,” said Rep. Woo Yoon-keun, floor leader of the NPAD. Rep. Min Byung-doo went after President Park, calling Lee only a small branch of the big tree of corruption. “The core of Sung’s exposures was illegal presidential campaign funds in 2007 and 2012,” Min said. “It is a grave misconception that the prime minister’s resignation will end the scandal. We just opened the first gate. We, therefore, demand that the former and current presidential chiefs of staff and Hong Moon-jong, Suh Byung-soo and Yoo Jeong-bok be investigated right away.” Shortly before he hung himself with a necktie on a tree branch on April 9, Sung told Kyunghyang Shinmun newspaper that he had paid off members of Park’s inner circle for years and some of the money was used to finance her 2007 primary and 2012 presidential campaign. He also left an apparent bribery list in his trouser pocket containing the names of eight politicians. Among them were Yoo Jeong-bok, Hong Moon-jong, Hong Joon-pyo, Huh Tae-yeol, Kim Ki-choon, Lee Byung-kee and Lee Wan-koo. The list also referred to an unidentified Busan mayor. Saenuri lawmaker Hong Moon-jong, Busan Mayor Suh Byung-soo and Incheon Mayor Yoo were in charge of organization and finance during Park’s presidential campaign. Huh and Kim were former presidential chiefs of staff and Lee Byung-kee is the current chief of staff. The ruling party launched a counterattack on Monday by linking the main opposition party to the scandal and questioning the integrity of the liberal Roh Moo-hyun administration, which held power from 2003 to 2008. While Sung’s revelations were focused on Park’s inner circle, rumors are spreading in the political arena that opposition lawmakers may also have received payoffs.

Rep. Kweon Seong-dong of the ruling Saenuri Party held a press conference today and demanded that the Roh administration’s special pardons for Sung must be investigated. Moon, chairman of the opposition NPAD, was a key member of the Roh government. “Sung was pardoned twice during the Roh presidency, and that supports the suspicion that Sung bribed senior members of the opposition party,” Kweon said. “We need to have an investigation into the pardons. It is extremely extraordinary for someone to be pardoned twice by the same president, unless that someone has a special relationship with the administration.” Sung was convicted of a political funding law violation in 2002 when he was serving as a special adviser to Kim Jong-pil, then head of the Chungcheong-based United Liberal Democrats. He was convicted of embezzling 1.6 billion won from his company and providing that money illegally to the party. He was pardoned on May 13, 2005. At the time, Moon was the civil affairs presidential secretary. His second conviction came in November 2007. He was convicted of breach of trust for lending 12 billion won of company money with no interest to the developer of the Haengdamdo project. Only one month later, on Dec. 31, 2007, Sung was pardoned. At the time, Moon was the presidential chief of staff. Kweon said the second pardon in 2007 was particularly suspicious because it was given over the Justice Ministry’s strong opposition. “The Blue House at the time postponed a cabinet meeting by six days to persuade the Justice Ministry,” he said. “The ministry eventually agreed under the presidential office’s pressure, but it did not make public that Sung was pardoned.” The Saenuri lawmaker also criticized Moon’s remarks. “Moon said the special pardons are the business of the Justice Ministry and had nothing to do with the Blue House,” he said. “That is ridiculous. Pardons are the exclusive right of the president according to Article 79 of the constitution, and the Blue House’s opinion is absolute. It is a classic case of special treatment if Sung was pardoned twice by Roh.” Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-an told the National Assembly yesterday that it was rare for a convict to receive a second presidential pardon. “I understand the people’s concerns,” he said. (Ser Myo-ja, “Prime Minister Decides to Resign,” JoongAng Ilbo, April 22, 2015)

Carlin: “It may seem like hubris to suggest the US government should have done something differently with North Korea a couple of months ago. After all, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is easy to dismiss as an outlaw operating outside the legitimate world order. And there are virtually no limits when it comes to condemning or satirizing the North Korean regime. As a result, creative thinking about policy toward Pyongyang is not easy to find. For the next 1,000 words, let’s examine what the US might have done differently, and why. The issue before us here is — or was for a few hours on January 9th — how Washington should have responded to North Korea’s proposal to suspend nuclear tests if the US suspended this year’s scheduled joint military exercises on the Peninsula. It took Washington somewhat less than 24 hours to reject North Korea’s proposal. Publicly, the rationale for that decision was three-fold:• Linking military exercises with nuclear tests was inappropriate and an implicit threat;• North Korea is already banned by UN Security Council resolutions from testing, so these aren’t something North Korea can offer to suspend; • Our joint exercises are defensive and have been held regularly for roughly 40 years. From the outset, let’s agree it was out of the question to accept North Korea’s proposal as presented. In mid-January, there was no way Washington and Seoul could stop major joint exercises set to start in only 6 weeks’ time. I’d argue that Pyongyang understood that. Why make the proposal, then? First, let’s look at Washington’s options. Quick, outright rejection of North Korea’s offer was certainly the easiest, and is what Washington quickly selected. Whether the US seriously considered a second option must be left for someone in the administration to reveal. Given how fast the rejection came, however, it is hard to imagine a second option received much thought. And what was the second option? It was to probe to determine what the North Koreans actually had in mind. (“Probe” avoids the dirty “E” word — engage.) Based on my 10 years of direct experience in negotiations with Pyongyang, I’m confident that this second option — probing — made sense precisely because North Korea never expected the US to accept the proposal as first presented. Instead, the proposal was almost certainly meant as an opening bid. Such an interpretation is reinforced by the wording of North Korea’s proposal itself — “…if the US needs dialogue as regards this issue, the former is ready to sit with the US anytime.” A North Korean diplomat at the UN reinforced that message a few days later. The frame of North Korea’s proposal was the well-established practice of parallel, initial steps designed to create an atmosphere for subsequent, more substantive talks. The two sides had taken that route before with a positive outcome, notably in September 1999. In other words, the idea of parallel action to create space for broader talks did not drop from the sky in January 2015. Moreover, this particular idea — a US move on exercises linked to a North Korean move on the nuclear issue — had been kicking around for many months. North Korean diplomats — who come to talks fully prepared — would have used this intervening time to refine their fallback positions. In its January proposal, Pyongyang was hearkening back to a deal in 1992, in which the South Korea and the US suspended the joint military exercise “Team Spirit” in return for something we considered an important step by North Korea on the nuclear issue, i.e. ratifying its International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards agreement. The similarities are striking, important, and hardly accidental. In this case, by pointing to this precedent, North Korea was signaling that the nuclear issue was, indeed, on the table (as Pyongyang has been saying since a high-level statement in June 2013). Mentioning nuclear tests was not an implicit threat but rather a gesture calculated to signal that Pyongyang would be willing to entertain additional trade-offs on the nuclear issue. Which ones, how much, and at what pace, of course, would remain for subsequent discussions. The proposal was thus couched in terms the North Koreans felt sure Washington would consider as moving in the right direction. They obviously misjudged. The objection will be heard (and was) that our exercises can’t be part of a trade-off. History suggests otherwise. As noted above, Washington and Seoul suspended Team Spirit in 1992, and there were plans to suspend it again in 1994 under the right circumstances. Military exercises, let us be clear, are not sacred rituals. They have both a symbolic and a substantive purpose. If they can be refined, trimmed, rescheduled, or redirected in ways that will advance US foreign policy goals without jeopardizing either our national security or South Korea’s, then it seems incredible that we would not do so. North Korea may well have figured (another miscalculation) that both Seoul and Washington would see that its proposal, though to the US, was linked to dialogue with South Korea, i.e. that some sort of gesture on the exercises this year would create the conditions mentioned by Kim Jong-un in his New Year’s address for an inter-Korean summit. The idea that we can’t accept a proposal by the North Koreans to suspend nuclear tests because these are already banned under UN Security Council resolutions is specious. The US accepted a test moratorium as part of the Feb. 29, 2012 deal with Pyongyang. If this was acceptable then, why the objection now? Let’s imagine that instead of rejecting North Korea’s proposal in less than 24 hours, Washington had urgently raised the question with Seoul, and the two capitals had agreed that the answers to five questions made it worthwhile and feasible to probe to see where North Korea’s offer might lead. What is there to talk about? Answer: The talks could serve as a starter engine, exploring and hopefully agreeing on parallel, initial steps opening the way to negotiations on the range of issues — including North Korea’s nuclear weapons program — of concern to all sides. Why move to exploratory talks? Answer: North Korea appears capable every three months of making enough fissile material for several — upwards of four — nuclear weapons. Not talking to Pyongyang doesn’t slow expansion of its stockpiles. Maybe talks won’t do that either, but given what is at stake (potentially, a North Korean arsenal of at least 30 nuclear weapons by the time this administration leaves office) there would seem to be a good reason to explore what is possible. This is not, as many in Washington appear to believe, a feckless exercise. A close reading of North Korean policy over the past several years suggests that Kim Jong-un is quite serious about improving the North Korean economy. That raises the possibility that his two-line (byungjin) policy does not really put equal weight on nuclear and economic development. It is worth testing the proposition that under the right circumstances, Kim would lean toward action favoring the economic side. How to conduct these initial talks, in other words at what level? Answer: Ambassador Sung Kim and Ambassador Ri Yong Ho are the appropriate officials. Where to hold talks? Answer: Anywhere that both the US and North Korea have secure communications. When to meet? Answer: They should have started Jan. 23. That would have given talks at least five weeks to run before the start of the US-South Korean joint exercises. Even if they couldn’t reach full agreement, these contacts could have at least provided a basis for returning to talks once the joint exercises ended in late April. They might even limit the uptick in tensions that is often a part of the exercise period.” (Robert Carlin, “The Meaning of a Missed Opportunity to Talk,” Global Asia, Spring 2015)


4/22/15:
China’s top nuclear experts have increased their estimates of North Korea’s nuclear weapons production well beyond most previous U.S. figures, suggesting Pyongyang may already have 20 warheads, as well as the capability of producing enough weapons-grade uranium to double its arsenal by next year, according to people briefed on the matter. The latest Chinese estimates of North Korea’s nuclear capability were shared during a February meeting at the China Institute of International Studies, the Chinese foreign ministry’s think tank. The Chinese brought technical, political and diplomatic experts on North Korea’s nuclear program, as well as military representatives, said people familiar with the meeting. The estimates showed that North Korea “I’m concerned that by 20, they actually have a nuclear arsenal,” said Siegfried Hecker, a Stanford University professor and former head of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, who attended the closed-door meeting in February. “The more they believe they have a fully functional nuclear arsenal and deterrent, the more difficult it’s going to be to walk them back from that.” Chinese experts now believe North Korea has a greater domestic capacity to enrich uranium than previously thought, Hecker said. “We saw how North Korea was able to game this whole process,” U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an interview. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Iran had its hands on the same playbook.” The pace of North Korea’s nuclear arms growth depends on its warhead designs and its uranium-enrichment capacity, Royce said: “We know they have one factory; we don’t know if they have another one.” Recent estimates by U.S. experts range from 10 to 16 nuclear bombs today. Royce said he met Chinese academics on a recent trip to Beijing and was struck by the concerns he heard about Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities. Hecker declined to comment on the meeting but said he had met with Chinese experts to discuss North Korea’s capabilities at least once a year since 2004. “They believe on the basis of what they’ve put together now that the North Koreans have enough enriched uranium capacity to be able to make eight to 10 bombs’ worth of highly enriched uranium per year,” said Hecker, who added that estimates by China and the U.S. involved a great deal of guesswork. U.S. officials didn’t attend the meeting but some expressed surprise when they were later briefed on the details, said people familiar with the matter. Some Chinese experts said the estimates revealed in February were at the higher range among local peers. Hecker said he estimated North Korea could have no more than 12 nuclear bombs now, and as many as 20 next year. “Some eight, nine or 10 years ago, they had the bomb but not much of a nuclear arsenal,” he said. “I had hoped they wouldn’t go in this direction, but that’s what happened in the past five years.” (Jeremy Page and Jay Solomon, “China Warns North Korean Nuclear Threat Is Growing,” Wall Street Journal, April 22, 2015)

Korea clinched a newly revised civilian atomic energy accord with the U.S., paving the way for a more stable supply of nuclear fuel, better management of used rods, related research and future exports of reactors. The preliminary signing followed four years and seven months of grueling negotiations since their launch in October 2010. The ceremony was in Seoul and led by Park Ro-byug, Korea’s chief negotiator and ambassador for nuclear energy cooperation, and Ambassador to Seoul Mark Lippert. The revamped agreement, last amended in 1974, will expire in 20 years, but the two countries have installed options for additional modifications or an early closure. The existing deal was due to expire in March 2014 but extended by two years for further consultations. The text establishes a legal framework of conditions and controls to govern commercial atomic activities involving U.S.-origin materials or others used in U.S.-origin facilities. It has 21 articles and two separate agreed minutes, each on detailed implementation plans and a high-level joint panel to be set up to oversee the pact on a standing basis. “As the existing accord sealed 40 years ago had various components that needed to be improved, the new one contains various progress focusing on three main areas ― spent fuel management, a steady fuel supply and reactor export promotion,” Park said at a news conference after the ceremony. “While affirming the two countries’ ‘inalienable right’ to the peaceful research, production and use of nuclear energy as members of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the document stipulates that there ought not be any breach of sovereignty as they expand cooperation,” the government said in a statement. While Washington ensures a reliable supply of fuel for 24 reactors here, the allies will be able to pursue Korea’s enrichment of U.S.-origin uranium up to 20 percent if necessary, through the high-level commission. The panel is to be jointly headed by Seoul’s vice foreign minister and U.S. deputy energy secretary, and operate four working groups on the three major fields and nuclear security.

The accord will also facilitate bilateral cooperation as Seoul explores ways to tackle the pressing issue of spent fuel management. An advisory panel consisting of municipal leaders, scholars and environmental activists has been established to look into various options in partnership with the government, including storage, disposal and reprocessing at home or overseas. The two countries are conducting a 10-year fuel cycle study to review a technology called pyroprocessing, which Korean experts have floated as a possible solution to handle Korea’s mounting spent fuel inventory, instead of traditional reprocessing capabilities that run against the longstanding U.S. nonproliferation drive. They will decide on the technique’s commercial feasibility and proliferation implication after the study is completed. The method is known to be less likely to be used for military purposes and thus less prone to proliferation because it leaves separated plutonium mixed with safer fissile materials. On the research front, Seoul secured Washington’s long-term advance consent for such activities as post-irradiation examination and electroreduction, as well as for medical studies, using U.S.-origin spent fuel. Scientists here were previously required to seek U.S. approval on a regular basis, about which they had long grumbled due to delays in their work schedule and what they call bureaucratic hassle. “A research reactor currently being constructed in Busan will help the production of medical isotopes, which we have been importing entirely from other countries for a fortune because they have to be carried by aircraft given their short half-life,” a ministry official said. “With the change, some 1.3 million cancer patients will get examinations more easily, the costs plummet from the current 20 million won ($18,500), and the door opens for us to export the isotopes when the generally old overseas reactors retire.” Long-term consent was also given for the retransfer of U.S.-origin fissile material and equipment to a third country that has nuclear agreements with both countries. The U.S. would speed up the authorization process for imports and exports. For the text to come into force, it will undergo a review in Korea by the Ministry of Government Legislation, intra-agency vice-ministerial and Cabinet meetings and presidential authorization. In the U.S., it is subject to intra-agency and nonproliferation assessments before being delivered to the president for approval. After a formal signing by the two administrations, the accord will be sent to Congress for a 90-day review and, if it does not disapprove, take effect. (Shin Hyon-hee,”Korea Gains More Nuclear Leeway,” Korea Herald, April 22, 2015) The new treaty does not allow South Korea to enrich uranium or reprocess spent fuel anytime soon. But it does not commit South Korea to legally renounce these techniques either. Instead, it leaves open the possibility that South Korea could enrich uranium for civil nuclear energy “in the future through consultations with the United States.” In the meantime, Washington promised to help secure a supply of nuclear fuel for South Korean atomic power plants, Seoul said in a news release. The deal also created the option for South Korea to have its spent fuel reprocessed abroad in countries that both Seoul and Washington believed posed no proliferation risk. The United States also promised to help South Korea find new nuclear waste management options that would be economically viable and more proliferation-resistant. As part of such efforts, South Korea said its scientists would be allowed to do early experiments on a kind of nuclear reprocessing known as pyroprocessing. The new treaty also establishes a high-level committee that will assess the implementation of the treaty. (Choe Sang-hun, “U.S. and South Korea Reach Revised Nuclear Deal,” New York Times, April 22, 2015)

One of six North Korean children under age 5 have been suffering from chronic malnutrition, a report showed, raising alarm over food situations in the North. The portion of underweight children suffering from malnutrition accounted for 15.2 percent of all of North Korea’s children under age 5 as of end-2013, according to the World Development Indicator 2015 released by the World Bank. (Yonhap, “N. Korea’s Children Suffer from Severe Malnutrition,” April 22, 2015)

South Korea said it has eased donor eligibility requirements to facilitate private groups’ humanitarian aid to North Korea amid lingering inter-Korean tension. Seoul’s ministry on inter-Korean affairs unveiled the decision to open more doors for the participation of private organizations at a time when the government’s assistance to the North has stalled following the 2010 deadly warship sinking. “Easing of the standards will help more non-government agencies increase aid to North Korea in such areas as maternal and child health care, agriculture and forestation,” said Lim Byeong-cheol, spokesman at the unification ministry, at a press briefing. The new move will allow private groups with no history of assistance to the North to join the drive to help cope with North Korea’s severe food shortage and other challenges. Meanwhile, Lim said that Seoul plans to provide necessary support to foreign activists who hope to walk across the heavily fortified inter-Korean border if North Korea approves their plan. About 30 female activists from around the world, including U.S. activist Gloria Steinem and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire from Ireland, plan to march from the North to the South across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that bisects the two Koreas to mark the May 24 International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament. Crossing the inter-Korean border requires approval from the two Koreas and the United Nations Command. “If the North’s nod is confirmed, the Seoul government will offer cooperation on the basis of the truce treaty and precedents,” Lim said. (Yonhap, “S. Korea Eases Bar for Donors to N. Korea,” April 22, 2015)

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo said in Jakarta that international conflicts should be settled in a peaceful manner, but stopped short of apologizing for his nation’s past aggression. “Japan, with feelings of deep remorse over the past war, made a pledge to remain a nation always adhering to those very principles throughout, no matter what the circumstances,” he said in a speech at the summit meeting of the Asian-African Conference. The principles of peaceful resolution to conflicts were adopted at the conference in 1955 when it was held for the first time in Bandung, Indonesia. More than 100 countries and international organizations were invited to participate. As Abe plans to release his statement this summer to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, attention has been focused on his comments concerning historical recognition. In his speech, however, the prime minister avoided such phrases as “colonial rule and aggression” and “heartfelt apology,” and placed importance on future relations. In the Asian-African Conference in 2005, then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in a speech referred to “colonial rule and aggression” and “deep remorse and heartfelt apology,” by citing phrases from the 1995 Murayama statement, which apologized for Japan’s aggression during the war. The speech led to the Koizumi statement issued in the summer of 2005. (Funakoshi Takashi, “Abe Offers ‘Remorse” for War But Eschews Apology in Speech in Jakarta,” Asahi Shimbun, April 22, 2015)

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo met Chinese President Xi Jinping for the second time in less than six months, in a sign his efforts to turn the page on Japan’s past aggression won’t derail improvement in ties. The longer-than-expected 29-minute meeting came hours after Abe barely mentioned remorse over World War II in a speech in Jakarta that will set the tone for his statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of the conflict. A day earlier he drew Chinese criticism after sending an offering to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which is seen by many in China and South Korea as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism. (Bloomberg, “Abe Meets Xi in Sign Differences over History Won’t Derail Ties,” Japan Times, April 22, 2015) At the beginning of the meeting, Xi said relations between China and Japan have recently improved to some extent amid joint efforts by representatives of both countries. Abe said he appreciated that bilateral relations have improved since their meeting in November last year. The two leaders agreed to promote a mutually beneficial strategic relationship, and contribute to the stability and prosperity of the region and the world. China has called for the creation of huge “One Belt, One Road” economic zones and the establishment of the AIIB — both of which, Xi said, have been hailed worldwide. Xi said he had not expected that China would be able to obtain understanding from such a variety of countries about the establishment of the AIIB. He said he believes Abe will also express his understanding of the project, indicating hopes for Japan’s participation. Abe said, “[Japan] shares the recognition that it is necessary to strengthen financial mechanisms as infrastructure demand in Asia is growing,” but maintained a cautious stance. He went on to say: “I’ve heard that there are problems in areas including governance. I expect working-level officials will hold talks, and I’ll wait for reports from them.” Regarding historical perception, Xi said squarely facing up to history would promote mutual understanding. He invited Abe to a Sept. 3 ceremony, which China describes as commemorating the anniversary of its victory in the war of resistance against Japan, and said he has no intention of criticizing the Japan of today during the event. Abe said the Japanese government has inherited the position of previous Cabinets as a whole, including statements by former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama and Junichiro Koizumi, and will continue in the same vein. “Our stance to seek the path of a pacifist nation, which is based on our profound remorse for World War II, will remain unchanged,” Abe said. (Kaiya Michitaka and Takekoshi Masahiko, “”Abe, Xi Agree on Efforts to Promote Bilateral Ties; P.M. Maintains Caution on AIIB,” Yomiuri Shimbun, April 23, 2015)


4/23/15:
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will visit Moscow for the May 9 celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of Russia’s victory in the war, a Russian diplomat said. If he visits Russia, it will be his first foreign trip since taking power in late 2011. Citing a Russian news report that quoted a top presidential official, Ambassador Alexander Timonin said Russia is expecting Kim’s visit. “His participation was confirmed maybe through diplomatic channels, the details of which aren’t always disclosed,” he told a meeting with reporters at the Russian Embassy here. “So you don’t need to worry. He will likely come.” (Lee Haye-ah, “Kim Jong-un to Visit Moscow: Russian Envoy,” Yonhap, April 23, 2015)

Three Cabinet ministers visited the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, just a day after Japanese and Chinese leaders held a bilateral meeting, drawing a rebuke from China, which views the Shinto shrine as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism. The visits by Takaichi Sanae, internal affairs minister, Yamatani Eriko, disaster management minister, and Arimura Haruko, minister in charge of female empowerment — all female — came amid signs of reconciliation between Japan and China despite friction over territorial and historical issues. Some 106 lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties visited the shrine yesterday, the second day of its three-day spring festival. (Kyodo, “Cabinet Ministers Visit War-Linked Shrine a Day after Abe-Xi Meeting,” April 23, 2015)

Victor Cha: “The big takeaway from the report is instead the prediction that North Korea could be in a position to double its arsenal by next year with weapons-grade uranium. If that assessment is correct, and Pyongyang can indeed boost its nuclear stockpile by the end of this year to around 40 warheads by utilizing highly-enriched weapons-grade uranium, then the plutonium program that the U.S. and members of the Six-Party talks had been negotiating over this past quarter century would suddenly seem trivial. After all, the plutonium program might be capable of spitting out maybe a few weapons worth of plutonium annually. This news could be much more serious. Why? For a start, it would mean that North Korea’s activities would undoubtedly meet the definition, if it had not already, of a runaway nuclear weapons program, with the potential to be fueled by a large supply of raw uranium buried in North Korea’s mines. In addition, while the plutonium program at Yongbyon has a clear and detectable profile, the thousands of centrifuges that spin in a uranium-based program have no detectable heat signature or topographic profile, meaning you could store the stuff not just in the labyrinth of underground tunnels in North Korea, undetectable from the sky, but in any large warehouse. Washington and Seoul have tended to have a policy that leans toward downplaying North Korean threats, at least when there isn’t a full-fledged crisis going on. For example, the United States downplayed North Korea’s missile threat until the country successfully put a satellite into orbit in December 2012. And up until 2006, no one thought the Kim regime would actually dare undertake a nuclear test. [?] These new estimates could therefore be a timely reminder that we may have downplayed the threat North Korea poses once again. But today’s report isn’t the only troubling information we have had recently. Just as concerning is the NORAD commander’s assessment on North Korea’s missile capabilities. On April 7, Adm. Bill Gortney said during a press briefing that the Defense Department believed Pyongyang’s KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is operational, with a warhead capacity. This statement is troubling for two reasons. First, Gortney’s statement, when combined with the latest Chinese assessment, implies that North Korea now not only has nuclear weapons, but the ability to miniaturize such weapons for a warhead that could be placed atop a missile with range rings extending to the U.S. mainland. Second, and just as importantly, Pyongyang’s advances in mobile ICBM capabilities could end up undermining the state of stable deterrence that currently exists on the Korean Peninsula. Put simply, these capabilities could give North Korea confidence that it is immune from any U.S. counterstrikes. (Victor Cha, “North Korea’s Troubling Nuclear Progress,” CNN, April 23, 2015)


4/24/15:
South Korea and the United States are to complete their annual joint military drill Foal Eagle today, officials here said, amid Pyongyang’s continued threat of retaliation, according to the Combined Forces Command (CFC) and Seoul’s defense ministry officials. “The tactical training has been carried out without a hitch,” said a CFC official, noting that the exercise mobilized about 200,000 Korean and 3,700 American troops and has involved a set of land, sea and air maneuvers as originally planned. Five countries — Australia, Canada, Denmark, France and Britain — have participated in the drill, with the Neutral Supervisory Commission observing and monitoring them to ensure they do not break the Armistice Agreement signed at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. Drawing attention was the participation of the USS Fort Worth, a 3,450-ton Freedom-class littoral combat ship (LCS), in the drill for the first time. Expressing a strong opposition to the exercises and issuing threats of harsh retaliation, North Korea had fired rounds of rockets multiple times during the exercise period, with the latest in early April when Pyongyang test-fired four short-range projectiles believed to be the KN-02 ground-to-ship missiles into the West Sea. “The level of the North’s provocations during the exercise period does not seem to be as intense as last year,” an official of Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said on condition of anonymity. “But we are closely monitoring their moves,” he said, pointing to chances of live-fire drills or test-firing rockets to mark the foundation of the North’s military that falls tomorrow. (Oh Seok-min, “S. Korea, U.S. to Wrap up Joint Drill This Week,” Yonhap, April 23, 2015)

South and North Korea agreed to hold another round of talks next week for a breakthrough over a prolonged wage row at a joint industrial park in the North, Seoul’s unification ministry said. The two Koreas have been embroiled in the wage dispute after the communist country has unilaterally decided to hike the minimum monthly wage of its 53,000 workers working for 124 South Korean companies at the Kaesong Industrial Complex by 5.18 percent to US$74 starting in March. Seoul has not accepted the North’s move, saying that Pyongyang violated a 2004 agreement that calls for the two sides to set the wages together. The wage cap has been set at 5 percent per year. Today was the renewed deadline by which the firms should pay the March wages to the North Korean workers. “Today, the two sides held a discussion over the wage issue. No conclusion was made, but the two sides agreed to meet on Monday for additional consultations,” the ministry said in a brief release. The two Koreas have held talks on the issue through quasi-government committees from each side three times so far. The North has threatened to collect arrears charges if the Seoul firms pass today’s deadline for the wage payment. So far, a total of 18 South Korean companies have been found to pay the wage, a move against Seoul’s guideline. “The government has set forth the guideline concerning payment (of the increased wages) after discussions with companies concerned. Those who turn out to violate this intentionally will be subject to corresponding measures,” the ministry said. Earlier in the day, Vice Unification Minister Hwang Boo-gi vowed to impose punitive actions on the companies that paid wages to North Korean workers despite the government’s warning. “The government plans to take the necessary actions against those firms after closely reviewing why they violated the government’s guidance,” Hwang said during a meeting with officials from the local firms who operate factories in the industrial complex. He also called on the officials to join the government’s efforts to tackle the wage dispute. (Yonhap, “Two Koreas to Continue Talks on Kaesong Wage Next Week,” April 24, 2014)

SRE Minerals, a British private equity firm, estimates that the North could be sitting on a whopping 216 million tons of rare-earth minerals, which are vital for many high-tech applications, including clean energy, defense systems and consumer electronics. China controls about 90 percent of the rare-earths market. It has large stockpiles after the central government relaxed environmental regulations, making mining highly economical. North Korea does not have the ability to mine the minerals itself, so the Korean Natural Resource Trading Corporation (KNRTC) has signed a 25-year joint-venture agreement with SRE for the rights to develop all rare-earth deposits in JongJu. The discovery has promoted China and Russia to increase their mining investment in North Korea. Russia recently agreed to invest $25 million towards upgrading the North’s railway system, in exchange for mineral reserves. And while China has denied North Korea’s entry into the new Asian Infrastructure Bank, it has allowed Chinese companies to move into the region to work on transport and power projects. (John-Patrick Gerard Thackeray, “N.K. Unearths Rare ‘Gold Mine,’” Korea Times, April 24, 2015)

The South Korean government reportedly allowed the late former President Kim Dae-jung’s widow, Lee Hee-ho, to visit North Korea at the end of May. Lee plans to arrange detailed schedules with North Korea from next week at the earliest. “We’ve received an approval from the government for pre-contact with the North and proposed to have the second working-level meeting in Gaeseong in the North. As the ROK-U.S. joint Key Resolve military drill (that the North has protested) ended, the North would respond probably next week or in early May,” a Kim Dae-jung Peace Center insider said in a phone interview with Dong-A Ilbo. “Accommodation and schedules were almost set and arranged during the first meeting in last September. What is left is to set the date.” The center plans to invite members of North Korea`s Asia-Pacific Peace Committee (KAPPC) to Seoul on May 9, and hold a ceremony to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the June 15 Declaration, a deal reached at the historic inter-Korean summit. The center will discuss who to invite at the working-level meeting prior to the ceremony. (Dong-A Ilbo, “Ex-President’s Widow Plans to Visit N. Korea in May,” April 25, 2015)

UN Office of Disarmament Affairs: “Nuclear-weapons-free zones have made an invaluable contribution to not only the disarmament and non-proliferation regime, but also to regional and international security. They provide tangible security benefits for all participants. Not only do they contain negative security assurances provided by nuclear weapon States, but, as verifiable and enforceable confidence-building measures, they assure member states that their neighbors are not pursuing nuclear weapon capabilities. The dividends produced by nuclear weapon-free zones for the disarmament and non-proliferation regimes are, to my mind, obvious. First, they are a practical means for outlawing nuclear weapons within a specified geographic area. Second, in parts of the world where so many have suffered from the effects of nuclear tests, they are a means to ensure future generations will not endure the same fate. Third, they are an essential building block for a world free of nuclear weapons. Fourth, and above all, these agreements represent a broad regional consensus to reject nuclear weapons and the grave dangers they pose to humanity and the environment. …Finally, I urge you to work together to facilitate a proliferation of new nuclear-weapon-free zones. Three potential new zones spring immediately to mind. One of the most economically dynamic regions in the world, North-East Asia is also home to some of its most intractable disputes. I encourage you to work with states of the region, civil society and international bodies to explore the possibility of removing the threat that nuclear weapons pose to this region.” (Anela Kane, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, “Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones: Building Blocks for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” Third Conference of States Parties and Signatories of Treaties That Establish Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones and Mongolia, New York, April 24, 2015)


4/25/15:
North Korea is expected to stage massive firing demonstrations and missile launches to mark the founding day of its Army, the ROK Defense Ministry here said April 20. The exercises bring together of thousands of Army, Navy, and Air Force troops. The North has moved patrol boats near South Korea’s northwesternmost islands and the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border, and readied field and coastal artillery, the ministry said in a report to the National Assembly’s Defense Committee. The North has designated a no-fly, no-sail zone in the East Sea since April 1 while gathering tanks and artillery pieces in a drill ground near Pyongyang. The ministry said the regime is already staging frequent fire drills of anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns across the border from the launch point of propaganda balloons from South Korean activists.

Earlier it reportedly dug a new tunnel at a nuclear test site in Punggye-ri, North Hamgyong Province. Adm. Choi Yoon-hee, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a visit to the 2nd U.S. Infantry Division in Dongducheon, Gyeonggi Province that the Seoul-Washington alliance is “vital” as the North prepares for a possible provocation near the NLL and in frontline areas. (Chosun Ilbo, “N. Korea to Stage Massive Military Drills,”April 21, 2015)

North Korea has requested a formal partnership with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a top Malaysian Foreign Ministry official said. Othman Hashim, secretary general of the ministry, said North Korea, along with Norway, Ecuador and Mongolia, have applied for formal partnerships with ASEAN. He said there are different categories of partnership with the grouping and ASEAN is evaluating the requests to decide what category is suitable for each of these countries in their engagement with ASEAN. The official made the remarks to reporters at the end of the first day of the meeting of ASEAN senior officials to prepare for the ASEAN summit that will be held in Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi in two days. North Korea’s engagement with ASEAN so far has been through its membership to the ASEAN Regional Forum, a multilateral ministerial forum on security that is spearheaded by ASEAN and which is attended by the North Korean foreign minister. ASEAN already has a “dialogue partnership” with South Korea, a status that the grouping offers to countries that are its biggest economic partners, such as the United States, Japan and China. (Manila Bulletin, “North Korea Requests ‘Formal Partnership’ with ASEAN,”April 26, 2015)


4/26/15:
Trade between North Korea and China, its economic lifeline, slipped 13.4 percent on-year in the first three months of this year amid frayed bilateral ties, data showed. Bilateral trade volume fell to US$1.1 billion in the January-March period, compared with $1.27 billion for the same period last year, the Beijing unit of South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) said, citing Chinese customs data. No crude oil was officially sent to North Korea from China for all of last year. China’s shipments of crude oil to North Korea were also absent during the first quarter of this year. South Korean diplomatic sources in Beijing, however, have cautioned against reading too much into the official Chinese trade figures because China has provided crude oil to North Korea in the form of grant aid in the past and such shipments were not recorded on paper. (Yonhap, “N. Korea’s Trade with China Dips 13.4 Pct. in Quarter,” April 26, 2015)

Minju Chosun: “An enlarged plenary meeting of the Cabinet of the DPRK … was attended by Premier Pak Pong Ju and members of the Cabinet. Present there were leading officials of institutions under the Cabinet, directors of its management bureaus, chairpersons of the provincial, city and county people’s committees, chairpersons of the provincial rural economy committees, chairmen of the provincial regional planning commissions, directors of the provincial management bureaus of food and consumer goods industries and managers of major industrial establishments as observers. The meeting reviewed the implementation of the first quarterly year plan of the national economy for carrying out the militant tasks set forth by Marshal Kim Jong-un in his New Year Address and discussed the measure for the second quarter of the year. Vice-Premier and Chairman of the State Planning Commission Ro Tu Chol made a report at the meeting to be followed by speeches. The meeting referred to the achievements made in carrying out the behests of leader Kim Jong Il and implementing the first quarterly year plan of the national economy and the state budget. The field of mining industry increased the production of iron ores and realized the local production of glass fiber, laying the foundation for self-supporting economy. The agricultural field opened a prospect for achieve the goal for the grain production set forth by the party despite difficult conditions for farming due to last year’s severe drought. The field of light industry produced and supplied quality school uniforms and school things to students of universities and colleges and new primary school children across the country and worked hard to supply lots of confectionery to children and students. The field of coal industry produced more 323 000 tons of coal than the same period of last year and achievements were made in the field of fisheries. The plan of state budgetary revenue was overfulfilled by 8 percent and all provinces, cities and counties overfulfilled the plan of local budgetary revenue. The reporter and speakers said that all these achievements are the proud fruition of the energetic leadership of Kim Jong-un. The meeting seriously analyzed and reviewed wrongdoings and discussed the tasks and ways to be fulfilled in the second quarterly year. It said that the main tasks facing the Cabinet in the second quarterly year are to continue pushing forward the work for carrying out the behests of Kim Jong Il and, at the same time, increase the power production at thermal power stations, step up the work to put the metal industry on a Juche basis and focus all efforts to farming work. The meeting underlined the need to take the behests of Kim Jong Il as the lifeline, key point, and thoroughly carry out them without an inch of deflection and concession. It called for turning out as one in the efforts to bring about fundamental turn in improving the people’s living standard, channeling efforts into putting the metal industry on a Juche basis and increasing electricity power to effect a great surge in the production of all sectors of national economy. It advanced concrete tasks for learning major projects on a regular basis and supplying equipment, raw materials and funds in good time. The meeting adopted Cabinet decisions “‘On correctly fulfilling on DPRK state budget for Juche 104 (2015),’ ordinance of the DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly” and “On correctly fulfilling the cash distribution plan for Juche 104 (2015).” (KCNA, “Enlarged Plenary Meeting of DPRK Cabinet Held,” April 26, 2105)


4/27/15:
South Korea approved a private fertilizer shipment to North Korea for the first time in five years, flagging a possible easing of strict sanctions imposed on the North for the sinking of a naval vessel. The move came days after South Korea and the United States wrapped up their annual joint military exercises which are always accompanied by a rise in cross-border tensions. The Unification Ministry said it would allow Ace Gyeongnam, a South Korean aid group, to deliver farming materials, including 15 tonnes of fertilizer, for a greenhouse project in the North. But the Unification Ministry said approval of the fertilizer shipment should not be seen as a relaxation of the sanctions regime. “It’s only a small amount of fertilizer and, because the particular organisation in this case was able to guarantee transparency on where and how it would be used, the government chose to approve the proposal,” a ministry official told AFP. “The 2010 measures remain in place, but where transparency can be guaranteed and the aid is intended to improve the lives of North Korea residents, the government will let it happen,” the official said. (AFP, “South Korea Allows First Fertilizer Aid to the North Since 2010 Sanctions,” April 27, 2015)

Joint Statement of the Security Consultatative Committee: “The New Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation, April 27, 2014:

  1. OVERVIEW: Minister for Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida, Minister of Defense Nakatani Gen, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter convened the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee (SCC) in New York on April 27, 2015. In light of the evolving security environment, the Ministers reconfirmed the Alliance’s commitment to the security of Japan and to the maintenance of international peace and security. The Ministers announced the approval and release of new, revised “Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation” (the Guidelines), which update the roles and missions of the two countries and promote a more balanced and effective Alliance to meet the emerging security challenges of the 21st century. The Ministers discussed a variety of regional and global challenges, initiatives to enhance bilateral security and defense cooperation in various areas, promotion of enhanced regional cooperation, and moving forward on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan. As articulated in its 2015 National Security Strategy, the United States is actively implementing its rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region. Central to this is the ironclad U.S. commitment to the defense of Japan, through the full range of U.S. military capabilities, including nuclear and conventional. Japan highly values U.S. engagement in the region. In this context, the Ministers reaffirmed the indispensable role of the Japan-U.S. Alliance in promoting regional peace, security, and prosperity. As Japan continues its policy of “Proactive Contribution to Peace,” based on the principle of international cooperation, the United States welcomes and supports Japan’s recent monumental achievements. Among these are: the cabinet decision by the Government of Japan on July 1, 2014, for developing seamless security legislation; the creation of its National Security Council; the Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology; the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets; the Basic Act on Cybersecurity; the new Basic Plan on Space Policy; and the Development Cooperation Charter. The Ministers affirmed that the Japan-U.S. Alliance, strengthened by the new Guidelines and the two countries’ respective security and defense policies, continues to serve as the cornerstone of peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region as well as a platform for promoting a more peaceful and stable international security environment. The Ministers also reaffirmed that the Senkaku Islands are territories under the administration of Japan and therefore fall within the scope of the commitments under Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, and that they oppose any unilateral action that seeks to undermine Japan’s administration of these islands.
  2. THE NEW GUIDELINES FOR JAPAN-U.S. DEFENSE COOPERATION: The Guidelines, which were first approved on November 27, 1978, and revised on September 23, 1997, have provided a general framework and policy direction for the roles and missions of the two countries, as well as ways of cooperation and coordination. At the SCC meeting in Tokyo on October 3, 2013, the Ministers shared views on the evolving security environment and directed the Subcommittee for Defense Cooperation (SDC) to draft recommended changes to the 1997 Guidelines to ensure that the Alliance continues its vital role in deterring conflict and advancing peace and security. Today, the SCC approved the SDC’s recommended new Guidelines, which accomplishes the objectives outlined by the Ministers in October 2013. The new Guidelines, which replace the 1997 Guidelines, update the general framework and policy direction for the roles and missions of the two countries and manifest a strategic vision for a more robust Alliance and greater shared responsibilities by modernizing the Alliance and enhancing its deterrence and response capabilities in all phases, from peacetime to contingencies. Recognizing the significance of ensuring consistency between the new Guidelines and Japan’s efforts to develop seamless security legislation, the Ministers acknowledged that such legislation would make bilateral efforts under the new Guidelines more effective. The United States welcomes and supports the ongoing efforts to develop the legislation, which is to reflect Japan’s policy of “Proactive Contributions to Peace” and its July 2014 cabinet decision. The core of the Guidelines continues to be the steadfast commitment to Japan’s peace and security. The new Guidelines detail the ways and means through which the two governments continue to strengthen their ability to fulfill that commitment through seamless, robust, flexible, and effective Alliance responses while expanding bilateral cooperation across a range of other areas, such as: Alliance Coordination Mechanism: Under the new Guidelines the two countries are establishing a standing, whole-of-government mechanism for Alliance coordination, enabling a seamless response in all phases, from peacetime to contingencies. Regional and Global Cooperation: The new Guidelines enable the Alliance to make greater contributions to international security initiatives wherever appropriate in a way consistent with Japanese laws and regulations, such as peacekeeping operations, maritime security, and logistic support. The Ministers reiterated the importance of cooperating with regional and other partners as well as with international organizations. New Strategic Cooperation: A dynamic world requires a modern Alliance, and the new Guidelines lay a foundation for the two countries to cooperate in space and cyberspace and in conducting operations intended to have effects across domains. Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief: The new Guidelines describe ways the two governments can work together to improve further the effectiveness of bilateral cooperation in responding to a large-scale disaster in Japan or around the world. A Strong Foundation: The new Guidelines also describe programs and activities that pay dividends in every aspect of bilateral cooperation, including defense equipment and technology cooperation, intelligence cooperation and information security, and educational and research exchanges. The Ministers confirmed their intention to start bilateral work under the new Guidelines. In this context, the SCC directed the SDC to implement the new Guidelines, including establishing the standing Alliance Coordination Mechanism and upgrading the Bilateral Planning Mechanism, thereby strengthening bilateral planning. The Ministers also expressed their intention to negotiate expeditiously an acquisition and cross-servicing agreement to operationalize the mutual logistics cooperation envisioned by the new Guidelines.
  3. BILATERAL SECURITY AND DEFENSE COOPERATION: The Ministers noted with satisfaction ongoing progress to strengthen the Alliance’s deterrence and response capabilities by enhancing bilateral security and defense cooperation in a variety of areas. The Ministers: confirmed the strategic importance of deploying the most modern and advanced U.S. capabilities to Japan, which enhances Alliance deterrence and contributes to the security of Japan and the Asia-Pacific region. In this context, the Ministers welcomed the deployment of U.S. Navy P-8 maritime patrol aircraft to Kadena Air Base, the rotational deployment of U.S. Air Force Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles to Misawa Air Base, the deployment of the USS Green Bay, an upgraded amphibious transport ship, and U.S. plans to deploy Marine Corps F-35B aircraft to Japan in 2017. In addition, the Ministers welcomed U.S. plans to deploy additional Aegis ships to Yokosuka Naval Base by 2017, as well as the swap-out of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington with the more advanced USS Ronald Reagan later this year; committed to continued engagement through the bilateral Extended Deterrence Dialogue, which reinforces the credibility of the U.S. defense commitment to Japan, including through discussion of nuclear and conventional capabilities; stressed the importance of sustained cooperation in enhancing Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) capabilities, particularly the deployment of a second AN/TPY-2 radar (X-band radar) system to Kyogamisaki in December 2014 and the planned deployment of two additional BMD-capable destroyers to Japan by 2017. Working in concert, these assets are to directly contribute to the defense of Japan and the United States; highlighted enhanced collaboration on space security, particularly in the areas of resiliency and developing capabilities, through the whole-of-government Japan-U.S. Comprehensive Dialogue on Space and the Space Security Dialogue. The Ministers also highlighted increased cooperation resulting from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s provision of space situational awareness (SSA) information to the United States, as well as the establishment of a new framework to discuss space-related issues between the two defense authorities; called for continued progress in cooperation on cyberspace issues, particularly in the areas of threat information sharing, mission assurance, and critical infrastructure protection, through the whole-of-government Japan-U.S. Cyber Dialogue and the Cyber Defense Policy Working Group; lauded enhanced Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) cooperation, particularly the rotational deployment of U.S. Air Force Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles to Misawa Air Base and Japan’s plans to procure advanced ISR platforms; praised expanded logistics and defense equipment cooperation, as reflected by Japan’s new Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology and the recent U.S. decision to establish an F-35 regional maintenance, repair, overhaul, and upgrade capability in Japan. The Ministers highlighted strengthened defense equipment cooperation through the linkage of the Systems and Technology Forum and the Alliance Roles, Missions, and Capabilities dialogue, which facilitates joint research and development of advanced capabilities; and affirmed the importance of enhanced information security cooperation, as reflected by continued progress through the Bilateral Information Security Consultations and by Japan’s implementation of the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets. As a result of this legislation, the Government of Japan has put in place the policies, practices, and procedures necessary to facilitate the secure exchange of sensitive information in peacetime and during contingencies. In addition, the Ministers affirmed that host nation support has demonstrated continued Japanese support for the forward-deployed presence of U.S. forces in Japan, which contributes to Japan’s peace and security in an increasingly complex security environment. The Ministers, noting that the current host nation support commitment, as stipulated in June 2011 SCC documents, expires in March 2016, expressed their intention to start consultations on future arrangements to provide an appropriate level of host nation support. Recognizing the expanding scope of bilateral activities, the Ministers affirmed their intent to consider at the earliest opportunity an appropriate bilateral consultation framework that would enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of Alliance management processes.
  4. REGIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION: Recognizing the Japan-U.S. Alliance as the cornerstone of peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region as well as a platform for promoting a more peaceful and stable international security environment, the Ministers highlighted recent progress in the following areas: Increased cooperation in Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief operations, as reflected by close coordination in responding to the November 2013 typhoon in the Philippines; Continued close coordination on partner capacity building, particularly in Southeast Asia, including through the provision of coastal patrol vessels and other maritime security capacity building endeavors; and Expanded trilateral and multilateral cooperation, particularly with key partners such as the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Australia, as well as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The Ministers highlighted the recent signing of a trilateral information sharing arrangement with the ROK concerning the nuclear and missile threats posed byNorth Korea, and resolved to utilize the framework as the foundation for expanded trilateral cooperation into the future. The Ministers also affirmed their intention to pursue closer cooperation with Australia on capacity building activities in Southeast Asia, and on security and defense issues through the Security and Defense Cooperation Forum.
  5. REALIGNMENT OF U.S. FORCES IN JAPAN The Ministers reaffirmed the two governments’ continued commitment to implement the existing arrangements on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan as soon as possible, while ensuring operational capability, including training capability, throughout the process. The Ministers underscored their commitment to maintaining a robust and flexible force posture that enhances deterrence by strengthening the capability to respond effectively to future challenges and threats, while also mitigating the impact of U.S. forces on local communities. In this context, the Ministers welcomed the relocation of the KC-130 squadron from Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma to MCAS Iwakuni and confirmed their commitment to continue aviation training relocation, including to locations outside of Okinawa, through efforts such as the development of training areas and facilities. As an essential element of this effort, the Ministers reconfirmed that the plan to construct the Futenma Replacement Facility (FRF) at the Camp Schwab-Henokosaki area and adjacent waters is the only solution that addresses operational, political, financial, and strategic concerns and avoids the continued use of MCAS Futenma. The Ministers reaffirmed the two governments’ unwavering commitment to the plan and underscored their strong determination to achieve its completion and the long-desired return of MCAS Futenma to Japan. The United States welcomes the steady and continuing progress of FRF construction projects. The Ministers also reconfirmed the importance of land returns south of Kadena Air Base based on the 2006 “Roadmap” and the April 2013 Consolidation Plan, and reiterated the two governments’ determination to work continuously on the implementation of the plan and anticipated the update of the plan by Spring 2016. The Ministers highlighted the on-time return of the West Futenma Housing Area of Camp Zukeran on March 31 of this year, which marked the most significant land return completed to date in accordance with the plan. The Ministers confirmed that the two governments are steadily implementing the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps personnel from Okinawa to locations outside of Japan, including Guam, based upon the amended Guam International Agreement. The Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening cooperation to protect the environment and confirmed the importance of making further efforts in environmental matters. To that end, the Ministers welcomed progress on a supplementary Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Environmental Stewardship and confirmed their intention to continue negotiating the ancillary documents of the Agreement as expeditiously as possible.

NSC senior director for Asian affairs Evan Medeiros supported this assessment during an on-the-record briefing at the Foreign Press Center to preview Abe’s visit to the U.S. Asked by the Korea Times, “When President Obama meets Prime Minister Abe, will he offer a new kind of approach to the North Korean nuclear issue, or are they just going to confirm the same approach of staying the course, doing nothing, unless and until North Korea shows something different?,” Medeiros replied: “Our approach is not doing nothing. I’ve never liked the term ‘strategic patience’ because it implies passivity. We’ve had a very active approach to North Korea. First and foremost, it begins with the priority on denuclearization. It begins with the premise of holding North Korea to account for its international obligations … numerous UN resolutions. It begins with the premise of strong unity between the U.S. and five parties of the six-party talks to ensure North Korea keeps its obligations. So it’s a practical approach. We don’t believe in talks for talks’ sake because North Korea wants them. We need to see some signs that there is their seriousness in purpose to denuclearization. This is our basic approach. There is broad agreement with Japan that this approach is the right one.” (Tong Kim, “No Change in U.S. Policy on North Korean Nuclear Issue,” Korea Times, April 28, 2015)


4/28/15:
Rodong Sinmun: “Ill-famed Foal Eagle joint military exercise kicked off by the south Korean warmongers with the U.S. came to an end on April 24. This saber-rattling seriously affected the inter-Korean relations and the situation on the Korean peninsula. …Their muscle flexing taught a serious lesson that neither dialogue nor negotiations nor improved relations are possible under the situation where the U.S. and south Korean puppet group stage military exercises for invading the DPRK. …Dialogue can never go together with war exercises. There is in south Korea a rumor that the end of Foal Eagle would help defuse the tension and pave the way for dialogue. However, it is too early to expect dialogue, cooperation and improved relations now that the south Korean authorities show no willingness to terminate the military exercises with the U.S. They plan to stage Ulji Freedom Guardian military drills in south Korea from coming August which is little short of Key Resolve and Foal Eagle. It is the height of shamelessness for the south Korean authorities to talk about “dialogue and cooperation”, feigning ignorance of the dangerous saber-rattling staged by them with the U.S. to carry out their sinister scenario for invading the DPRK. They should draw a due lesson from the catastrophic consequences entailed by their reckless military exercises against the DPRK and make a bold decision to put an end to them before talking about “dialogue.” They had better behave themselves, facing up to the trend of the times and the desire of the compatriots.” (KCNA, “Inter-Korean Dialogue Impossible amid Ceaseless Saber-Rattling: Rodong Sinmun,” April 28, 2015)


4/29/15:
ISIS: “In October 2014, ISIS assessed that the 5 MWe reactor at Yongbyon in North Korea, was shut down or partially shut down for either partial refueling or renovations. This assessment derived from the analysis of satellite imagery dated September and October 2014, which showed no steam venting from the turbine building and no visible water being discharged from the secondary cooling system’s discharge pipeline (the most important external signatures related to the operation of the reactor). The absence of these two important signatures was also noted in imagery dated December 1, 2014. Subsequent Airbus and Digital Globe high resolution images dated January 19, February 6, March 20, and April 15, 2015 do not show clear evidence that the reactor has resumed full power operation. However, the presence of snow and ice in the January and February images allow the observation of some additional signatures that suggest that the reactor may be operating at low power or operating intermittently. This assessment of partial operation derives from the analysis of melting snow patterns on the reactor and turbine buildings. On January 19, 2015, the site was covered in snow and there is very little indication of any melting, which could imply that it either recently snowed or the temperatures were too low for widespread melting. However, on February 6, 2015, the snow had melted in very specific areas at the site. For example, the snow on the roof of the 5MWe reactor had melted in an irregular manner compared to the snow on surrounding roofs. This irregular melting could be caused by the combined effect of sun and heat from the inside of the building. In addition, little snow is present on the roof of the reactor’s turbine building, again indicating that the inside of the building could be hot and therefore melting the snow on the roof. Another important signature visible in the January 19 and February 6, 2015, images is the presence of a weak stream of warm water being discharged from the 5MWe reactor’s discharge pipeline, which was identified when the reactor was operating prior to September 2014. It is important to note that this weak stream of water could have been present also in previous imagery but is only visible now because of the presence of snow and ice. The presence of this water signifies that the 5MWe reactor’s secondary cooling system is active. The secondary cooling system intakes water to cool the carbon dioxide gas heated by the reactor’s operation. However, determining whether it is active for low power operation or simply operating intermittently is not possible from the image. In the March 20 and April 15, 2015 images, an outflow of water is not visible at the discharge point mentioned above. But a weak stream of warm water could be present but not visible without the presence of ice and snow. Another piece of evidence possibly suggesting operation involves the turbine building which may be emitting steam at the time of the February 6, 2015image. There is an irregular white shape, consistent with a small batch of steam, visible on the turbine building roof beside the two original vents. Because several months have gone by since a clear discharge of water from the 5 MWe reactor was visible, ISIS has been looking for alternative water discharge locations. North Korea may have decided to change the manner or location in which it discharges the water from the 5MWe reactor’s secondary cooling system. Based on the analysis of recent imagery, two possible discharge locations are noted. The first one can be seen in January and February 2015 winter images and is located slightly down river from the known discharge point on the river band. Its exact purpose, however, is unknown. It is plausible that this pipeline may be connected to the other activities at the reactor site. The second possible discharge location is on the other side of the reactors and involves two artificial water canals. Although the precise origin of the water is unknown, the two canals seem to originate from the top half of the reactor site, which is where the 5 MWe reactor is located. The two canals converge and then flow under a road toward what may be a small pump house before ending at the river. A historic analysis shows that the canals were created at the time when light water reactor (LWR) construction started (note that the 5 MWe reactor’s cooling tower had also been destroyed). Also, the water in these canals was not always present. For example, in January 2013 there was water only in one of the two canals while in January and April 2015 water is present in both. The fact that water is visible in winter imagery (with snow and ice) suggests that the water is either flowing or is warm.” (David Albright and Serena Kelleher-Vergantini, Yongbyon: A Better Insight into the Status of the 5MWe Reactor, Institute for Science and International Security, April 29, 2015)

Kim Jong-un ordered the execution of 15 senior officials this year as punishment for challenging his authority, South Korea’s spy agency told a closed-door parliament meeting. A vice minister for forestry was one of the officials executed for complaining about a state policy, a member of parliament’s intelligence committee, Shin Kyung-min, quoted an unnamed National Intelligence Service official as saying. “Excuses or reasoning doesn’t work for Kim Jong-un, and his style of rule is to push through everything, and if there’s any objection, he takes that as a challenge to authority and comes back with execution as a showcase,” Shin said. “In the four months this year, fifteen senior officials are said to have been executed,” Shin cited the intelligence official as saying, according to his office. (Jack Kim and Jung-min Park, “North Korea’s Kim Ordered 15 Executions This Year: South’s Spy Agency,” Reuters, April 29, 2015)

American lives lost in the Second World War were “sacrifices in defending freedom,” Abe Shinzo told the US Congress in an emotive speech that nonetheless stopped short of the reckoning with history his critics have called for. As the first Japanese prime minister to address a joint session of Congress, Abe mentioned Pearl Harbor, where Japan’s surprise attack began the Pacific war; and Bataan Corregidor, a battle followed by a death march of US prisoners. But Abe, whose conservative nationalism causes unease in northeast Asia and occasionally in Washington, offered no direct apology. His speech on Wednesday gave little sense that any part of Japan’s wartime history required a special reckoning. Abe said that “our actions brought suffering to the peoples in Asian countries” and that he would uphold official statements made by previous prime ministers about Japan’s wartime record. “History is harsh. What is done cannot be undone,” said Mr Abe. “I offer with profound respect my eternal condolences to the souls of all American people that were lost during World War Two.” Abe’s reticence about wartime actions has been criticised by some US politicians. “For the interest of geopolitical stability, not to mention for historical accuracy, I think it’s important for the government of Japan to be more forward-leaning in the pronouncements they’re making,” Republican senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio said. Mr Abe’s speech was sharply criticized by some Democratic members of Congress. Mike Honda, a House member from California, said it was “shocking and shameful” that he “continues to evade his government’s responsibility … for the so-called ‘comfort women’.” Judy Chu, another California Democrat, said she was “incredibly disappointed that he failed to directly address the problem of comfort women.” (Robin Harding and Geoff Dyer, “Abe Stops Short of Apology in Congress,” Financial Times, April 30, 2015)

The ruling party won surprise victories in three out of four National Assembly by-elections despite a snowballing scandal engulfing President Park Geun-hye’s inner circle, while the main opposition party suffered a crushing defeat across the board after struggling with independent liberal rivals. Four vacancies in the legislature were filled through the by-elections including three districts previously controlled by the now-disbanded leftist Unified Progressive Party: Gwanak B in Seoul, Jungwon in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, and Seo B in Gwangju. The fourth seat — Ganghwa B in Incheon’s Seo District — was formerly controlled by the ruling Saenuri Party. The ruling party added three more seats to its 157 majority in the 300-seat National Assembly. And in the fourth district in Gwangju, Chun Jung-bae, a former veteran lawmaker of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), won the race. He ran as an independent. Since three of the four constituencies were traditional liberal turfs, initial expectations were that the NPAD would score easy victories. But the main opposition party failed to keep unity in the liberal camp and its candidates ended up running against other liberal rivals running as independents. The failure was particularly serious in Seoul’s Gwanak B constituency and Gwangju’s Seo B. In Gwanak B, six candidates ran: the Saenuri’s Oh Shin-hwa, the NPAD’s Jeong Tae-ho and also Chung Dong-young, who left the main opposition party earlier this year to establish his own political group. Two of the other three trailing candidates were conservative and one was liberal.

Chung is a major political player who ran in the 2007 presidential election as the opposition candidate but suffered a crushing defeat against Lee Myung-bak. As the liberal votes were split between Jeong and Chung, the Saenuri’s Oh won the race in Gwanak B. Cho Young-teck, the NPAD candidate in Gwangju’s Seo B district, faced even a tougher liberal rival — Chun, a former justice minister and four-time lawmaker. Chun left the NPAD last month to run as an independent, refusing to compete in the internal primary of the NPAD. Although Gwangju is a traditional stronghold of the NPAD, liberal votes were split between Cho and Chun. The Saenuri Party’s Shin Sang-jin, a doctor-turned-lawmaker, won a victory for the ruling party in Jungwon in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, against his NPAD rival Chung Hwan-suk. In Ganghwa B in Incheon’s Seo District, Ahn Sang-soo, former Incheon mayor, won the race against his NPAD contender Shin Dong-geun. (Ser Myo-ja, “NPAD Crushed in All 4 By-Elections,” JoongAng Ilbo, April 30, 2015)


4/30/15:
Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, will not attend a celebration in Moscow in May of the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany, a top Russian official said. Dmitri S. Peskov, President Vladimir V. Putin’s spokesman, said that Moscow had learned of Mr. Kim’s decision through “diplomatic channels,” and that the tentative plans were canceled because of “internal Korean affairs,” the Interfax news agency reported. (Andrew Roth, “Kim Jong-un Won’t Attend WWII Celebration in Moscow,” New York Times, April 30, 2015)

South Korea denounced Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo for his failure to apologize for Japan’s wartime atrocities, saying he thwarted chances to mend ties with Seoul. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said he should have used the occasion to show “righteous history perceptions.” Although he expressed “deep remorse” over Japan’s conduct during World War II and said he “upholds” apologies by his predecessors, he did not offer his own apology. He made no direct mention of Japan’s sexual enslavement of many Korean, Chinese and other Asian women for its troops. If he did so, it could have become a “turning point” toward genuine reconciliation and cooperation with South Korea and other countries, the ministry said in a statement. “It’s very regrettable that there were no such perceptions and a sincere apology.” If Japan wants to contribute to world peace, its leaders should try to win international trust through an apology for the past, it said. “But Japan is going in the opposite direction.” (By Lee Chi-dong, “S. Korea Says Abe’s Speech ‘Very Regrettable,” Yonhap, April 30, 2015)

South Korea will try to mend ties with Japan over history rows this year, a senior aide to President Park Geun-hye said, stressing the need to enhance security ties between Seoul, Washington and Tokyo amid rising threats from nuclear-armed North Korea. The comments by Ju Chul-ki, senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs, came after hopes were dashed that Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo would change his course to apologize for Japan’s wartime atrocities during his trip to the United States this week. “We are making efforts with Japan to seek solutions to history matters,” Ju said in a forum organized by the state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA) in Seoul. “We are determined to resolve (pending issues) regarding the Seoul-Tokyo relations within this year, while separating security issues from history,” he stressed, without elaboration on how to achieve the goal. (Oh Seok-min, “S. Korea Seeks Better Ties with Japan: Cheong Wa Dae,” Yonhap, April 30, 2015)

DPRK FoMin spokesman: “Diplomatic and military authorities of the United States and Japan held a security meeting on April 27 to revise the “U.S.-Japan defense cooperation guidelines.” In the new “guidelines” the U.S. set major five sectors for security cooperation with Japan ranging from “peace time” to “contingency,” calling for such strengthened role of the Japan “Self-Defense Forces” (SDF) as ballistic missile interception, logistic support to the U.S. forces worldwide, guarantee of maritime security, search and mine sweeping, non-proliferation of WMDs, inspection of vessels and anti-terrorism operation. After all the U.S. expanded to the whole world the sphere of SDF’s activities, which had been limited to the vicinity of Japan, and made it possible to get military support from Japan during its military operation in any part of the world. … What cannot be overlooked is the fact that the U.S. pulled up the DPRK, contending that the revision was needed to “deter any provocative action” of the latter. …The U.S. asserted that the revised “guidelines” are to cope with “threat” from the DPRK. But it is the ulterior objective of the U.S. to lessen its heavy burden of military spending with the strengthened role of SDF, use Japan as a shock brigade for realizing its ambition for world supremacy, encircle and contain its rivals in Eurasia by force of arms and maintain its hegemonic position. The U.S. has fanned up Japan’s revival of militarism to attain its goal, in disregard of the world concern over the latter’s attempt to embellish and deny the past history. The strengthened U.S.-Japan military alliance will inevitably harass the stability of Northeast Asia, foment confrontation and friction in the region and spark off disputes and arms race. No matter how the structure of relations among neighboring countries may change, the DPRK will invariably hold fast to the Songun politics and the line of simultaneously developing the two fronts and bolster up its capabilities for self-defense with the nuclear deterrent as a pivot unless the U.S. gives up its hostile policy aimed to stifle the former.” (KCNA, “DPRK FM Spokesman on Revised ‘U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation Guidelines,’” April 30, 2015)

A U.S.-organized event on North Korea’s human rights briefly turned into chaos at the U.N. on as North Korean diplomats insisted on reading a statement of protest, amid shouts from defectors, and then stormed out. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, tried to quiet the diplomats at the event that featured more than 20 defectors. She called North Korea’s statements “totally self-discrediting.” The North Korean diplomats did not comment as they left the chamber after diplomat Ri Song Chol read out a statement in protest of the event, even as North Korean defectors stood and shouted in their faces. Defectors stood up and shouted in Korean as Power and others called for calm and a U.N. security team assembled. An observer who speaks Korean said the shouts included “Shut up!” ”Free North Korea!” ”Down with Kim Jong-un!” and “Even animals know to wait their turn.” “There is no need for a microphone,” Power said as one North Korean diplomat persisted in reading out a statement that referred to “ungrounded allegations” and “hostile policy” toward his country. A microphone was briefly turned on for the diplomats. Power continued: “Please shut the mike down because this is not an authorized presentation. … Please ensure that the microphone is not live. … We are calling U.N. security.” As soon as the North Korean diplomat stopped talking and the next featured defector, Jay Jo, started speaking, the North Korean diplomats stood and walked out. (Cara Anna, “North Korean Diplomats Cause Chaos at UN Event on Rights,” Associated Press, April 30, 2015)


5/1/15:
South Korea said it will help spur civilian exchanges with North Korea to mark the 70th anniversary of their liberation from Japan’s colonial rule. The Ministry of Unification said it will encourage civilian groups to boost inter-Korean exchanges in such areas as culture, sports and history to help “restore national unity and open channels for cooperation.” “Seoul expects that more exchanges and cooperation will pave the way for broadening mutual understanding and improving inter-Korean relations,” said a ministry official. He said that private groups have made more requests for inter-Korean exchanges as a joint military drill between South Korea and the United States ended last week. Inter-Korean exchanges have been suspended since 2010, when Seoul imposed punitive sanctions on North Korea by banning economic and cultural exchanges to punish the North’s torpedoing of the South Korean warship Cheonan in March of that year. (Yonhap, “Seoul to Boost Inter-Korean Civilian Exchanges,” May 1, 2015)


5/2/15:
Rodong Sinmun commentary: “Recently the U.S. and south Korean puppet forces concluded the negotiations for revising the “atomic energy agreement.” Under this agreement south Korea is allowed to enrich uranium and reprocess the spent nuclear fuel. …The revised “agreement,” the U.S. criminal act of paving the way for south Korea’s nuclear weaponization, is little short of a dangerous gambling as it escalates the nuclear arms race and increases the danger of a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula and in the rest of Northeast Asia to an extreme pitch. By revising the “agreement” the U.S. made south Korean puppet forces’ development of nukes legal, self-exposing that it is the main nuclear proliferator and the arch criminal creating a nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula. …The U.S. and south Korean puppet forces should be brought to justice for their nuclear proliferation but they are pulling up the DPRK over its “nuclear threat” and “nuclear proliferation.” This is like a thief crying “Stop the thief!” The prevailing grave situation once again goes to prove that the DPRK took a just option to consolidate nuclear deterrence for self-defense as firm as a rock, guided by its own viewpoint and faith. The U.S. and south Korean puppet forces have neither qualifications nor face to take issue with the DPRK’s measures for bolstering up its nuclear deterrence.” (KCNA, “U.S. Denounced for Paving Way for S. Korea’s Nuclear Weaponization,” May 2, 2015)

KCNA: “South Korean resident in the U.S. Won Moon Joo, 21, student of New York University, was arrested while illegally entering the DPRK after crossing the Amnok River from Dandong, China on April 22. He is a permanent resident in 56 C Westervelt Avenue, Tenafly, New Jersey, U.S. He is now under investigation by a competent institution of the DPRK. He admitted that his illegal entry was a serious violation of the law of the DPRK.” (KCNA, “South Korean Permanent Resident in U.S. Arrested for His Illegal Entry into DPRK,” May 2, 2015) “I wanted to be arrested,” Joo told a CNN reporter, looking relaxed and even smiling as he walked into a conference room at Pyongyang’s Koryo Hotel for the interview. He told CNN he had crossed two barbed-wire fences and walked through farmland until he reached a large river. He followed the river until soldiers arrested him. “I thought that by my entrance to the DPRK (North Korea), illegally I acknowledge, I thought that some great event could happen and hopefully that event could have a good effect on the relations between the North and (South Korea),” Joo said, without elaborating on the event. “I hope that I will be able to tell the world how an ordinary college student entered the DPRK illegally but however with the generous treatment of the DPRK that I will be able to return home safely,” he said. (AFP, “NYU Student Held in N. Korea Says He ‘Wanted to Be Arrested,’” May 5, 2015)


5/3/15:
Kim Jong-Un vowed to launch more “satellites” in order to become a space power, state media said, despite global condemnation on past launches, dubbed disguised ballistic missile tests. Kim, during a visit to the North’s newly-built satellite command center, urged scientists to work harder to “further glorify the (North) as a space power,” state-run KCNA said. “The status of the (North) as a satellite producer-launcher remains unchanged though the hostile forces deny it and its space development can never be abandoned, no matter who may oppose,” Kim was quoted as saying. (AFP, “N. Korea’s Kim Vows More Satellite Launches,” May 3, 2015) KCNA: “Kim Jong-un, first secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, first chairman of the DPRK National Defence Commission and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), inspected the newly-built General Satellite Control Centre of the National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA).The successful construction of the centre as a monumental edifice in the era of the Workers’ Party provided a solid springboard for continued launch of various working satellites essential for the country’s sci-tech and economic development and national defense. …The status of the DPRK as a satellite producer-launcher remains unchanged though the hostile forces deny it and its space development can never be abandoned, no matter who may oppose, he said. Satellites of Juche Korea will as ever be launched into outer space at the time and locations set by the Party Central Committee, he added. He expressed great expectation and belief that the scientists and technicians of the NADA would bring about a fresh turn in space scientific research and satellite launch.” (KCNA, “Kim Joing-un Visits Newly-Built General Satellite Control Center,” May 3, 2015)

Two South Koreans awaiting trial in North Korea on espionage charges have admitted to spying for Seoul in interviews with CNN in Pyongyang conducted in the presence of North Korean minders. The television news network said it had been unable to independently verify the accounts provided by the two men, who were interviewed separately in different rooms of a Pyongyang hotel today. Although both Kim Kuk-Gi and Choe Chun-Gil claimed they had not been coerced or coached on what to say, CNN noted that their accounts were “strikingly similar.” (AFP, “South Koreans Detained in the North Say They Spied for Seoul: CNN,” May 3, 2015)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s recent revocation of his anticipated visit to Russia may have resulted from Moscow’s lukewarm response to Pyongyang’s plans to purchase its air defense missile systems, a news report said Saturday. Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV cited a Russian defense expert, reporting that the North floated a proposal to purchase four sets of Russia’s S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile systems during a visit by Hyon Yong-chol, minister of the People’s Armed Forces, to Moscow last month to take part in an international security conference. The fully-automated equipment was first deployed by the former Soviet Union in the late 1970s to defend its airspace, military bases and industrial and administrative facilities against aircraft and cruise missiles. But Moscow declined Pyongyang’s offer of barter in favor of cash, and indicated that it could upset the “strategic balance” in the region and thus needs the consent of China and other neighbors, the expert was quoted as saying. The report came shortly after the Kremlin announced that the Kim regime had delivered via diplomatic channels his decision to back out of what would have been his first overseas trip since taking power in December 2011, citing “domestic affairs.” The trip was chiefly designed to attend a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II on May 9 and on its sidelines to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. While Beijing has apparently leaned toward lingering uncertainties until the last minute, some Seoul officials also raised the possibility that the young ruler had indeed planned to go but did an about-face after certain demands were not met.

Meanwhile, Kim has inspected a new satellite control and command in charge of rocket launches, calling space development a “critical task” for the people and vowing to carry on the project, the North’s official media reported Sunday. Run by the National Aerospace Development Administration, the 13,770-square-meter facility is responsible for satellite launches and consists of chambers to show the entire launch process in real time, a control room, observatory, e-library and other spaces. “Peaceful space development is an option taken by our party and people and a legitimate right of Songun (military first) Korea,” Kim said. “The status of (North Korea) as a satellite producer-launcher remains unchanged though the hostile forces deny it and its space development can never be abandoned, no matter who may oppose.” (Shin Hyon-hee, “Kim Nixed Russia Trip after Failed Missile Buy: Report,” Korea Herald, May 3, 2015)


5/4/15:
The South Korean government approved a plan by civic groups to meet North Koreans this week to discuss joint events. The five-member delegation from a related coalition plans to hold two-day talks starting tomorrow in the Chinese city of Shenyang. The meeting is to prepare for inter-Korean ceremonies to mark the 15th anniversary of the June 15 Joint Declaration and the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan’s colonial rule. “The government has permitted the planned meeting only,” an official at the Ministry of Unification said. “It will be decided later whether to approve joint events, depending on the results of the consultations.” (Yonhap, “S. Korea OKs Civilian Meeting with N. Korea on Joint Events,” May 4, 2015)


5/5/15:
Hwang Joon-kook, Seoul’s special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, arrived in Washington earlier in the day for talks with Ambassador Sung Kim, special representative for North Korea policy, and other U.S. officials. Details of Hwang’s discussions with Kim were not immediately available, but a State Department spokesperson said they had “a very productive discussion on a wide range of issues related to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” Upon arrival in Washington, Hwang said the current situation is “fluid.” “We will exchange assessments of the situation with each other and discuss the direction of our response. In particular, we will focus our discussions on how to move forward ‘exploratory talks’ and denuclearization talks,” Hwang told reporters at the airport. The term “exploratory talks” refers to a compromise form of negotiations aimed at meeting both Pyongyang’s demand for unconditional resumption of talks and U.S. insistence that any formal negotiations should begin only after Pyongyang takes concrete steps demonstrating its denuclearization commitment. (Yonhap, “S. Korean, U.S. Nuclear Envoys Discuss ‘Exploratory Talks’ with N. Korea,” May 5, 2015) North Korea’s five nuclear dialogue partners are now ready to hold “exploratory talks” with Pyongyang without any preconditions to test the communist nation’s denuclearization commitment before resuming formal negotiations. “As a result of close consultations among the five parties, there is a degree of consensus formed on conditions for the resumption of six-party talks. Based on this, we’re pushing for unconditional exploratory talks,” Hwang told South Korean correspondents. The term “exploratory talks” refers to a compromise form of negotiations aimed at meeting both Pyongyang’s demand for an unconditional resumption of talks and the U.S. insistence that any formal negotiations should begin only after Pyongyang takes concrete steps demonstrating its denuclearization commitment. Exploratory talks can take any format, multilateral or bilateral, Hwang said. “As exploratory talks are to confirm North Korea’s intentions, we will hold meetings without conditions and confirm the North’s sincerity,” he said. “What’s important is for a responsible person from North Korea to come and listen to what we intend to say and show the North’s response.” Hwang also held talks with Daniel Glaser, the Treasury’s assistant secretary for terrorist financing, and discussed sanctions imposed on North Korea. He left for Beijing later Tuesday for talks with his Chinese counterpart, Wu Dawei. (Chang Jae-soon, “Seoul’s Nuclear Envoy Says No Precondition for ‘Exploratory Talks’ with North Korea,” Yonhap, May 6, 2015)

Trade volume between the two Koreas reached an all-time high last year despite the May 24, 2010, punitive sanctions on North Korea, data by Seoul’s Unification Ministry showed. Inter-Korean trade surged 106.2 percent on-year to reach $2.34 billion. The rise was largely attributed to businesses at Kaesong industrial park in the North’s border town. The volume of exchanges is expected to grow as the Seoul government recently announced it would allow social and cultural interchanges with the North on the municipality and humanitarian levels this year. (Korea Herald, “Inter-Korean Exchanges,” May 5, 2015)


5/5-6/15:
Civilian representatives from South and North Korea held preparatory talks in Shenyang, China on plans to jointly celebrate the 15th anniversary of a historic inter-Korean summit after Seoul eased some cross-border exchanges. The meeting, held in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang, marks the first time in five years that the two sides have discussed the joint celebration. Last week, South Korea said it will actively support inter-Korean exchanges in sports, culture and other civilian programs. This year marks the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule, as well as the division of the two Koreas. The anniversary commemorates the June 2000 summit between then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il that produced a landmark agreement, the June 15 Joint Declaration, which outlines reconciliation and economic cooperation between the two sides that have yet to officially culminate the 1950-1953 Korean War. The conflict ended in a truce. If the talks are successful, the two Koreas would hold joint events in Seoul on June 14-16, according to South Korean officials. The South Korean Council for the Implementation of the June 15 Joint Declaration dispatched its eight-member delegation with the approval of the Unification Ministry. Lee Seung-hwan, who attended the Shenyang meeting as the head of the Civil Society Organizations Networks in Korea for the South side, said he was cautious about the meeting’s outcome. “Both the preparatory committee and government are cautious,” Lee said, adding, “It is difficult to predict” the outcome of the closed-door meeting. A North Korean delegate also declined to give an answer to a question about the prospects of the meeting, saying, “Stop it.” The Unification Ministry said it will encourage civilian groups to boost inter-Korean exchanges in such areas as culture, sports and history to help “restore national unity and open channels for cooperation.” “Seoul expects that more exchanges and cooperation will pave the way for broadening mutual understanding and improving inter-Korean relations,” said a ministry official, asking not to be named. He said that private groups have made more requests for inter-Korean exchanges as a joint military drill between South Korea and the United States ended on April 24. The discussion comes amid a second trial run of a joint logistics project between the two Koreas and Russia, fueling speculation that Seoul may lift its May 24 economic sanctions against Pyongyang. Under the unification ministry’s supervision, 140,000 tons of bituminous coal produced in Siberia will be shipped to South Korea by May 9 via the Russian border town of Khasan and Rajin, a port city in North Korea. The shipment will be made to three port cities — Dangjin and Boryeong in South Chungcheong Province, and Gwangyang in South Jeolla Province. The trial run this month follows the previous one in December, when some 45,000 tons of bituminous coal was transported to Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, after traveling a 54-kilometer cross-border railway between Khasan and Rajin. On April 17, Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo voiced hope that strained inter-Korean relations will begin to thaw in the near future. The North has not responded to Seoul’s offer for dialogue, citing the joint exercise between Seoul and Washington. In late April, the ministry unveiled plans to hold a soccer game and “ssireum,” or traditional Korean wrestling matches, with Pyongyang. Other projects being pursued include performances involving musicians from the two Koreas and academic events, as well as an ongoing program to publish a joint dictionary of their language. Seoul will also permit journalists to visit North Korea to cover a variety of events to be pursued by civilian groups. The ministry will allow more private organizations to increase humanitarian assistance to North Korea by easing standards for donor eligibility and expanding the scope of aid. As part of such efforts, Seoul plans to tap more inter-Korean cooperative funds to support people-to-people exchanges. In this connection, South Korea’s provincial governments on May 3 unveiled plans to resume long-suspended aid to and exchange projects with North Korea under a new inter-Korean reconciliation policy by the Park Geun-hye government. Gyeonggi Province, which surrounds Seoul, has been in talks with the ministry and other relevant organizations to resume three projects with North Korea, officials said. One project aims to preserve traditional Korean houses, known as “hanok,” in North Korea’s border city of Kaesong, while the others deal with drawing up joint preventive measures against malaria and building a joint tree nursery. North Jeolla Province, which has carried out large-scale projects to support North Korea’s agricultural and livestock industries, will also consider ways to resume cross-border projects, officials there said. South Jeolla Province, located on the southwestern tip of the Korean Peninsula, is focusing on promoting exchanges with North Hamgyong Province at the northern tip. Following the ministry’s announcement, the South Jeolla government has begun to study ways to send seaweed and rice to mothers and underprivileged children in North Hamgyong. “As the government has allowed the expansion of aid projects for the North, we will confidently make active efforts,” a South Jeolla government official said. Officials in the southern port city of Busan welcomed the Park administration’s new policy, citing their interest in participating in a logistics project involving the two Koreas and Russia. If the project succeeds, South Korea will be able to ship goods from Busan to the North Korean city of Rajin, where a railway linking the city to the Russian city of Khasan could help transport the goods to Europe. Still, any optimistic outlook in the inter-Korean relations is not guaranteed. North Korea blasted South Korean Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo, claiming, in a direct rebuttal to a remark he made criticizing the regime’s denial of its abduction of South Koreans during the 1950-53 Korean War, that it was Hong and Seoul that were breaking moral laws. The North’s propaganda arm, the Uriminzokkiri, ran an article on May 5 entitled “Who is breaking moral laws?” in which it blamed South Korea for “abducting North Korean citizens,” and argued it was Seoul that was breaking those codes. “The majority of North Koreans in the South who live under dismal conditions and suffer from blatant discrimination are the people who were abducted to the South,” the North said through its mouthpiece. Pyongyang’s media outlet also went so far as to deny the existence of North Korean defectors. The North’s harsh rhetoric against Hong was in response to a remark he made on April 29, when he met with the relatives of the abductees. During the meeting, Hong said North Korea was “breaking the moral laws of the family relationship” by denying its abduction of South Koreans. He also promised that the government would do its best to coordinate reunions. But despite its strongly worded response, North Korea insinuated that it would be willing to discuss holding reunions for the families separated by the war, saying the South “should lift the May 24 sanctions that have been standing in the way of fostering inter-Korean cooperation.” The North also called on the South to prohibit activists from launching balloons containing leaflets critical of the regime across the border if Seoul is interested in holding family reunions. Seoul, on the other hand, has hinted it may lift sanctions if the North apologizes for the torpedoing incident in 2010. Another issue at stake is four South Koreans being detained in the North. South Korea urged North Korea on May 4 to release a South Korean college student with a U.S. green card detained in the North for illegal entry. North Korea announced over the weekend that it has detained a 21-year-old man studying at New York University. The North said it arrested him on April 22 for illegally entering the communist nation through a Chinese border city. Pyongyang identified him as Joo Won-moon, a resident of New Jersey. “It is deeply regrettable that North Korea is detaining Joo Won-moon, who is a South Korean national, without any explanation to our government and his family,” Lim Byeong-cheol, spokesman at the Ministry of Unification said in a statement. “The government strongly demands that the North immediately release Joo and return him to the arms of his family.” Lim stressed Pyongyang should guarantee his security and permit him consular access in accordance with international law and practices. (Yonhap, “Seoul Steps up Efforts for Inter-Korean Cooperation,” North Korea Newsletter 361, May 7, 2015)


5/6/15:
Ever since President Park explicitly linked addressing the issue of the comfort women to holding a summit with Japan during a luncheon for newspaper editorial writers on July 10, 2013 — she said, “a summit with the Japanese leader must take place in a future-oriented atmosphere” — she has held to the strategy of linking the two. While PM Abe has indicated on several occasions his wish to hold a summit, South Korea has rejected all of his overtures. The logic is that if the comfort women issue blows up after the summit is held, bilateral relations will only get worse. However, the strategy of predicating the summit on the single matter of resolving the comfort women issue is gradually becoming more of an obstacle for South Korea’s foreign policy. The US and Japan are moving closer together while China and Japan are also working to improve their relations, leaving South Korea with less and less room to maneuver. As South Korea effectively isolates itself, Japan has even less reason to meekly submit to its demands. Circumstances such as these prompted the South Korean government to emphasize a “two-track” diplomatic strategy with Japan, which distinguishes historical and territorial issues from cooperation in the areas of security, economics, and culture. This can be seen as a compromise approach that takes into consideration the US desire for trilateral security cooperation with South Korea and Japan. However, there are concerns that, with the US openly siding with Japan, the South Korean government’s two-track approach could lead to a worst-case scenario in which it is dragged into a trilateral cooperation regime with the US and Japan without receiving any apology from Japan about historical issues. Given South Korea‘s territorial dispute over Dokdo (islets called Takeshima in Japan) and its experience with Japan’s imperial aggression, South Koreans are very uncomfortable with cooperating with Japan on security issues without first dealing with these historical and territorial issues. Another concern is that China views trilateral cooperation between South Korea, the US, and Japan as being basically intended to check China. Some experts think that, before splitting historical issues from cooperation in other areas, it is important to treat the idea of holding a summit independently from historical issues. “South Korea needs to find a way to address the questions of a summit and the comfort women separately,” said Cho Se-yeong, visiting professor at Dongseo University and former Northeast Asia bureau chief for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Other analysts suggest that, since historical issues and security are connected, it would be more effective to adopt a revised two-track approach that would link those two issues while treating the areas of economy and culture separately. The idea would be to redefine the goals of foreign policy and to put options like summits on the table. (Son Won-je, “In Japan Policy, Seoul Trying to Disentangle History and Contemporary Issues,” Hankyore, May 6, 2015)


5/7/15:
When officials informed us that we’d be granted a sit-down interview with a high-ranking member of North Korea’s inner circle with no preconditions, it was a real surprise. Senior figures in Pyongyang don’t do interviews, especially not with the international press. “I do not like talking to foreign media,” Park Yong Chol said frankly as we shook hands ahead of our meeting. He said that we report rumor and fabrication about his country. Park is the deputy director of the DPRK Institute for Research into National Reunification — a think tank with links to the highest levels of North Korea’s government. In spite of his misgivings, he sat down to talk with us beneath the ubiquitous portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. Our conversation lasted nearly two hours and no topic was off limits. The only instruction we were given was to break from our traditional CNN interview format of two chairs facing each other, so that we could sit across a large conference table, and so that the two portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il could be seen directly over Park. We agreed to do this, as our government guides explained the symbolism of the Great Leaders appearing overhead was very important to their country. We quickly got onto a touchy subject: the recent reports from South Korea’s National Intelligence Agency that Kim Jong-un had personally ordered the execution of about 15 officials so far this year. “Malicious slander!” he replied. “Especially as they try to link the allegations against to the august name of our Supreme Leader Marshall Kim Jong-un.” But he did not deny that executions take place here of those who try to overthrow the government or subvert the system. “It is very normal for any country to go after hostile elements and punish them and execute them.” Park maintained that his country does indeed have the missile capability to strike mainland United States and would do so if the U.S. “forced their hand.” It has been a costly strategy, but a necessary one, he admitted. “We invested a lot of money in our nuclear defense to counter the U.S. threat — huge sums that could have been spent in other sectors to improve our national economy. But this strategic decision was the right one.” The next goal is economic. “We’re a major power politically, ideologically and militarily,” he said. “The last remaining objective is to make the DPRK a strong economic power.” But to do that North Korea would have to improve ties with the international community. With mutual distrust and Pyongyang’s refusal to disarm its nuclear arsenal, there seems to be no clear path to moving forward. (Will Ripley and Tim Schwarz, “North Korea Would Use Nukes If ‘Forced,’ Official Says,” CNN, May 7, 2015)


5/8/15:
KPA Southwestern Command: “The warmongers of the south Korean puppet military have recently reached the height in their provocative hysteria in the hotspot waters of the West Sea of Korea. They committed military provocations by infiltrating a total of 17 speedboats of the puppet navy two-three times every day deep into the territorial waters of the DPRK from May 1 to 7. A total of five speedboats of the puppet navy intruded into the territorial waters of the DPRK several times from 06:30 to 13:50 on April 26. The intrusions were made under the pretext of “intercepting fishing boats” of a third country but its ulterior purpose was to “defend the northern limit line”, the illegal line. Such reckless intrusions are escalating in the hotspot waters in the overall southwest sea including Paekryong, Taechong and Yonphyong Islands. These naval intrusions timed to coincide with the leaflet scattering operations being conducted openly on the whole front are lashing the service personnel of the Korean People’s Army in the southwestern sector of the front into a great fury. In view of the prevailing situation, the command of the KPA in the southwestern sector of the front made public the following emergency special warning on Friday upon authorization: 1. From this moment, it will make a sighting strike without any prior warning at any warship of the south Korean puppet navy intruding into the extension of demarcation line in the hotspot of the West Sea of Korea. There is a limit to the patience of the KPA service personnel in the southwestern sector of the front. The DPRK had already announced several times that self-defensive military strikes would be made at the provocateurs intruding into the territorial waters of the DPRK even 0. 001mm. The KPA service personnel in the southwestern sector of the front do not make an empty talk. 2. In case the provocateurs challenge the self-defensive sighting strike of the KPA, it will successively deal strong second, third and more retaliatory strikes at them. Its successive retaliatory strikes will prove what miserable end the provocateurs would meet. This warning is based on the resolute decision to mercilessly punish with arms the provocateurs hell-bent on confrontation with compatriots. In case the utmost patience exercised by the KPA service personnel in the southwestern sector of the front turn into resentment of justice and their repeated warnings lead to prompt actions, the south Korean puppet authorities will be held wholly accountable for the ensuing consequences as they orchestrated and incited the provocations.” (KCNA, “”Command of KPA in Southwestern Sector of Front Issues Emergency Special Warning,” May 8, 2015)

South and North Korea exchanged barbs over Pyongyang’s claims of South Korean ships’ violation of the western sea border. Flatly dismissing the North’s claims, South Korea expressed “serious regrets” over the warning against “our ships’ normal operations.” “It is not our side but your side that brings up tension along the NLL. Your threatening words and deeds by distorting facts are stoking unnecessary military tension between the two Koreas,” Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said in a message to the North Korean command. “If you act provocatively while ignoring our warnings, we will sternly and strongly respond to them to the degree where you will bitterly repent,” Kim said, calling for Pyongyang’s full respect for the maritime border. The latest incident came amid an increasing number of North Korean and Chinese fishing boats operating near the border. Every year, North Korea gets paid from the Chinese side in exchange for offering China the right to fish in its waters, according to officials here. Pyongyang has included part of the South Korean territorial waters near the western sea border when selling the rights to China, prompting the Seoul military to beef up surveillance, they said. “We’ve never violated the NLL, while the North has often done so,” said a defense ministry official, requesting anonymity. In the latest case, a North Korean patrol boat crossed the border into the South due to engine failure. The South Korean military “is analyzing what prompted the North to make such absurd remarks, while maintaining the strong posture against any possible scenarios,” although there is no indication yet of unusual military movement from the North, he added. (Kim Soo-yeon and Oh Seok-min, “”Two Koreas in Verbal Clash over Yellow Sea Border,” Yonhap, May 8, 2015)

While the Obama administration spent the past two years getting within striking distance of a deal to delay Iran’s race for a nuclear bomb, North Korea went on an atomic spending spree: an expansion officials here fear Washington has little hope of stopping. Satellite photographs of the North’s main nuclear facility at Yongbyon, released in 2013, have shown a doubling in size of the nuclear enrichment plant there, which the United States did not know about until 2010, and American officials strongly suspect there is a second one. A consensus is emerging that the North most likely possesses a dozen or so nuclear weapons and could be on the way to an arsenal of as many as 20 by the end of 2016. “In my view, 20 is a hell of a lot of bombs,” Siegfried S. Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and a professor at Stanford, said in an interview. But Hecker, who was the first American invited to see the enrichment plant and has made some of the best unclassified estimates of its future capabilities, said he was doubtful of recent claims by American military officials that the North was on the verge of shrinking a nuclear weapon to fit on a long-range missile capable of hitting the western United States. The apparent buildup in nuclear bombs, after 20 years of failed efforts by the United States to keep North Korea from reaching this point, has become a rallying call for both sides debating the agreement with Iran. Republicans and Israeli officials, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, cite the trail of broken agreements with the North as a warning of what they say will become of the Iran deal. President Obama’s allies turn that argument on its head: The lesson, they say, is that an enforceable, verifiable deal is the only way to keep Iran from doing in the next decade what North Korea has done in the past few years. Both sides are, of course, selectively plucking arguments to support their case. The reality is that the Iranian and North Korean programs, while often referred to in the same breath by politicians, are so different that all the analogies are flawed. For starters, no agreement with North Korea was ever as specific as the proposed Iran accord, which Congress is moving to review after a bill cleared the Senate on Thursday. The Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea in 1994 was a few pages long, compared with the hundreds of pages and annexes in the Iran deal. In addition, Iran says it will abide by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which provides a legal underpinning for the final deal that is supposed to be sealed by June 30. In contrast, North Korea boasts that its atomic arsenal is enshrined in its Constitution, and it withdrew from the treaty long ago. (The club of nuclear nations that have not signed the treaty is a small one: India, Israel and Pakistan. All are believed to have 100 to 200 weapons, and many suspect that range is the ultimate goal of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.) Inspectors have regular access to Iran’s major nuclear sites, although they have been stonewalled on some details of alleged work on past weapons designs. The deal includes provisions for monitoring equipment in every known facility and requirements that Iran dilute its stockpiles of weapons-grade fuel or ship them out of the country. In contrast, there have been no inspectors in North Korea for years. Not least, Iran’s leadership is under domestic political pressure to end sanctions and normalize relations with the West, but North Korea sees near-total isolation as the key to its survival. American strategy has also gone in opposite directions. Obama made overtures to North Korea during his first months in office, but his view quickly changed when the country responded by conducting a nuclear test. He and his advisers decided that Iran was the far better strategic bet: With luck, it could be stopped from building weapons. North Korea’s arsenal, one of Obama’s top Asia aides said, “is already in the rearview mirror.” The administration began discussing “strategic patience,” which essentially meant continuing pressure through sanctions and other levers until North Korea decided to negotiate. But the North says the prospect of disarmament is long past. It wants what amounts to arms control negotiations that acknowledge it as a nuclear power — which the Obama administration, like the Bush administration, says it will never accept. Behind the scenes, Sydney A. Seiler, the State Department’s coordinator for eliminating North Korea’s nuclear program, and his counterparts from China, Japan, Russia and South Korea have been putting together a package of proposals to show to the North that would find a basis for resuming negotiations. Several officials involved described a package that sounds, in broad strokes, a lot like the secret diplomacy that preceded the negotiations with Iran: a freeze on all current production so that the North’s arsenal would not be expanding as negotiations resumed. But in interviews in Seoul, senior South Korean officials said they were concerned that the events of the past two years, while the United States was focused on Iran, had left them with a far more complex situation. “Some in my government feel that we may now face the point of no return on the North’s nuclear technology and their missile capability,” one official said. “The point of no return” is a phrase the Israelis used to use about Iran, fearing that its program was too large to ever contain. The concern about the North’s nuclear expansion is not that it would launch a pre-emptive strike on South Korea or Japan, because North Korean officials know their government would be decimated in minutes or hours. But South Korean and American strategists are worried that a stockpile of 20 weapons, and perhaps 50 or more by 2020, could give the country enough extra supply to sell highly enriched uranium, much as it has sold missile and other technology to Iran, Pakistan and Syria. “It would be an enormously risky thing for them to do,” one senior American military official here said. “But we’ve seen them take other very risky actions in the past,” including building a reactor in Syria, which Israel destroyed in an airstrike in 2007. Apart from the destruction of the reactor itself, the North suffered little for that action, and the sanctions placed on it in January in retaliation for the cyberattack on Sony Pictures, for which Obama said North Korea was responsible, have been viewed as largely ineffective. Some American officials say they have one last hope: If the deal with Iran works and sanctions are lifted, North Korean officials, who are following the negotiations closely, might conclude that their nuclear program could be traded for economic integration. Other senior officials say that is a pipe dream. “For Iran, some degree of integration is part of how you build national power,” one of those officials said. But for North Korea, he added, “it’s the pathway to disintegration.” (David E. Sanger, “With U.S. Eyes on Iran, North Korea’s Arsenal Expanded,” New York Times, May 8, 2015, p. A10)


5/9/15:
South Korea’s National Security Council held an emergency meeting as North Korea ratcheted up tension by repeating threats to fire without warning on South Korean naval vessels it accused of violating its territorial waters. North Korea today test-fired three anti-ship missiles into the sea off its east coast in what was seen as its latest show of force against Seoul. South Korean military officials identified the North’s anti-ship missiles KN-01 cruise missiles and said the missiles were fired off into the sea off Wonsan, a major port on the North’s east coast, in a span of one hour starting at 4:25 p.m. The missiles with a range of 100 kilometers are believed to have been modified from Chinese Silkworm missiles, they said. (Korea Times, “N. Korea Test-Fires Three Short-Range Missiles,” May 9, 2015)

Admiral Choi Yun-hee, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), promised to execute immediate retaliations against the North if the hermit state causes any military threats to the South.

“We must keep unwavering readiness conditions and will make sure we protect the Northern Limit Line (NLL), which has been defended with the blood of our seniors,” he told navy officials during a visit to the 2nd Fleet headquarters. Choi’s remark came a day after the North claimed South Korean Navy speedboats intruded into the North’s territorial waters in the Yellow Sea earlier this week. The North then said it will make a “sighting strike” at any South Korean warship without prior warning. Choi met with U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti yesterday to discuss the situation and countermeasures following the North’s threats. (Korea Times, “Military Chief Vows to Protect NLL from N. Korea,” May 9, 2015)

KCNA: “There took place an underwater test-fire of Korean-style powerful strategic submarine ballistic missile. The ballistic missile was developed on the personal initiative of Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army Kim Jong-un, first secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea and first chairman of the National Defense Commission of the DPRK, and under his meticulous guidance. Kim Jong-un learned about the tactical and technological specifications of the newly developed ballistic missile and watched its test-fire. As soon as he issued an order to begin the test-fire, a combat alarm was sounded inside the strategic submarine and it submerged up to a depth for firing the ballistic missile. After a while, the ballistic missile soared into the sky from underwater. The test-fire proved and confirmed that the ballistic missile fired from the submarine fully met the requirements of the latest military science and technology. He highly praised the officials, scientists and technicians in the field of defense science and a munitions factory for having successfully perfected the technology of firing ballistic missile from the strategic submarine underwater in line with the strategic intention of the Central Committee of the WPK. He said that the successful test-fire of ballistic missile from Korean-style attack submarine [?] is an eye-opening success as signal as satellite launch. A wonderful gift was presented to the 70th anniversary of the founding of the WPK thanks to the painstaking efforts of the officials, scientists, technicians and workers in the field of defence science and a munitions factory, he noted, extending his thanks to them on behalf of the C.C., the WPK. He stressed that the acquisition of the technology of firing ballistic missile from a strategic submarine underwater made it possible for the KPA to possess a world-level strategic weapon capable of striking and wiping out in any waters the hostile forces infringing upon the sovereignty and dignity of Songun Korea and conduct any underwater operation.” (KCNA, “Kim Jong-un Watches Strategic Submarine Underwater Ballistic Missile Test-Fire,” May 9, 2015) U.S. intelligence agencies closely monitored North Korea’s test of a new submarine-launched ballistic missile and were anticipating the launch for several days, according to U.S. officials. The missile test Saturday of a purported North Korean missile, known as the KN-11, was closely watched by U.S. intelligence monitoring equipment, including satellites, aircraft, and observation ships, said officials familiar with intelligence reports. U.S. intelligence agencies assessed that the missile test was more of an ejection test—a launch from underwater that fires the missile out of a simulated launch tube into the air. The missile then ignited its engine and flew a short distance, the officials said. U.S. officials do not believe the missile was launched from a submerged submarine. A similar test was carried out April 22. The missile appears from the photographs to be a variant of North Korea’s Musudan intermediate-range missile. According to Yonhap, South Korean officials assessed the submarine-launched missile to be an ejection test, and said that the missile flew only about 328 feet after launch. KCNA described it as “an underwater test-fire of Korean-style powerful strategic submarine ballistic missile.” The missile test was not officially confirmed by U.S. or South Korean officials. A Pentagon official said: “We’re aware of the reporting, but have no comment on North Korea’s claims.” A State Department official declined to comment, citing a policy of not discussing intelligence matters. However, the official said ballistic missile launches “are a clear violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.” “We call on North Korea to refrain from actions that further raise tensions in the region and focus instead on taking concrete steps toward fulfilling its international commitments and obligations,” the official said. No date or location was given for the test. However, it is believed that the test firing was carried out near the port of Sinpo, which has been identified in commercial satellite photographs as the location for the development of the SLBM. Another KCNA dispatch stated that Kim Jong-un, the North Korean supreme leader, on Saturday visited a fisheries complex near Sinpo. U.S. officials have said the new SLBM has been under development since last year, but the first official confirmation of the new weapon came during congressional testimony in March by U.S. Strategic Command commander Adm. Cecil Haney. The missile was flight tested in February and the Pentagon has designated the new system as the KN-11. Together with North Korea’s road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile, the KN-08, the KN-11 is the third long-range missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to a target thousands of miles away. (Bill Gertz, “U.S. Spy Agencies Closely Watched N. Korea Underwater Missile Test,” Washington Free Beacon, May 11, 2015) The Defense Ministry downplayed May11 the significance of North Korea’s claim that it successfully launched a ballistic missile from a submarine. “The North should first have the skills to produce miniaturized submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) warheads,” a high-ranking military official told reporters. He also said that to pose a genuine clear and present danger to the United States, it first needs to master the technology related to re-entry warheads from an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM). The military believes that the North test-fired a dummy ballistic missile near Sinpo, South Hamgyeong Province. The missile allegedly traveled some 150 kilometers. “The North has conducted similar underwater test-fires several times in the past and last week’s launch was made public for the first time, with its leader in attendance,” the military official said. “The North should cease SLBM development that undermines security on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia,” spokesman Kim Min-seok said in a briefing. He added that the North’s underwater missile program is in its early stages. “Advanced nations fully developed their SLBMs four to five years after they first test-fired them,” Kim said. (Kang Seung-woo, “Seoul Downplays NK’s Missile Claim,” Korea Times, May 11, 2015) A group of international military analysts has played down North Korea’s capability to deploy a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) in a year or two, saying concerns are overblown. They also raised questions about the credibility of the reclusive country’s claim that it successfully test-fired a ballistic missile from underwater. “This is an emerging threat. It’s still going to take years,” Joseph Bermudez, a U.S. analyst on North Korean defense and intelligence affairs, was quoted as saying by the Korean-language edition of the Voice of America (VOA) online, March 12. A U.S. defense official agreed. “That was not a ballistic missile,” the official, who asked not to be named, told AFP March 11. The official added there was no “imminent” threat of an SLBM arsenal coming on line in North Korea, although the country is developing such a capability. In his VOA interview, Bermudez said the deployment of an SLBM requires a cycle of steps in advance — research, test, development and evaluation. He also said North Korea does not have a 3,000-ton submarine, which military analysts say is crucial to mount an SLBM and operate in deep sea before attacking targets on land. Bruce Bennett, senior defense analyst at the U.S. RAND Corporation think tank, had a similar view. “Given the small size of North Korean submarines and the state of their missile technology, I suspect this missile will not have enough payload to carry a nuclear warhead, and may have only a few hundred kilometers’ range,” he said. “A true North Korean SLBM with land-attack capabilities would be a serious new threat. But, so far, I believe that we only have North Korean statements and pictures describing these missiles. And North Korea often seriously exaggerates its military capabilities,” Bennett added. (Yi Whan-woo, “’Concern over N. K. Missile Overblown,’” Korea Times, May 12, 2015) North Korea is “many years” away from being able to launch ballistic missiles from a submarine but that capability could eventually pose a threat to U.S. allies Japan and South Korea, Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Center for Strategic and International Studies May 19. The North Koreans “have not gotten as far as their clever video editors and spinmeisters would have us believe,” he said. “They are many years away from developing this capability. But if they are eventually able to do so it will present a hard-to-detect danger for Japan and South Korea as well as our service members stationed in the region. This only reinforces the importance of regional ballistic missile defense.” (Matthew Pennington, “U.S.: N. Korea ‘Many Years’ from Developing Submarine Missile,” Associated Press, May 19, 2015) Photos showing a North Korean missile launched from a submarine were manipulated by state propagandists, and the isolated country may still be years away from developing the technology, Winnifield said.. “They have not gotten as far as their clever video editors and spinmeisters would have us believe.” (James Pearson, “North Korea ‘Modified’ Submarine Missile Launch Photos, U.S. Official Says,” Reuters, May 20, 2015) Joseph Bermudez: “Using a combination of ongoing research, analysis of a May 10, 2015 DigitalGlobe commercial satellite image of the Sinpo South Naval Shipyard and the recent North Korean news releases, 38 North has reviewed its earlier analytical conclusions. This review concludes that: 1.The earlier assessment that North Korea was in the initial stages of developing a seaborne ballistic missile launch capability remains valid. 2. North Korea is expending significant resources to develop a SLBM capability. 3. The Sinpo South Naval Shipyard is continuing to be modernized, likely in preparation for a new submarine construction program. 4. North Korean camouflage, concealment and deception (CCD) efforts are in full effect and that there is an even chance that the recent SLBM test was conducted from a submerged launch platform rather than a submerged submarine. With regards to CCD, some of the imagery released by North Korea may have been altered. 5. The concurrent development of a new submarine-launched ballistic missile system and an associated ballistic missile capable submarine are within the upper limits of North Korea’s industrial and technical capabilities. 6. The earlier assessments that under optimal conditions North Korea possesses an emerging regional seaborne ballistic missile threat rather than an imminent threat and that it does not represent an emerging intercontinental threat, remain valid. KCNA announced on May 9, 2015 that the Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un had observed an “underwater test-fire of Korean-style powerful strategic submarine ballistic missile.” Subsequent statements by South Korean officials indicated that the test was more accurately an “ejection test” to evaluate stabilization systems and the process of ejecting a ballistic missile from a submerged submarine rather than a full-scale test of a new submarine-launched ballistic missile system (sometimes identified as the KN-11). These same officials indicated that the missile flew a short distance before it impacted into the sea. Preliminary information suggests that this test, as well as previous ejection tests, were very likely conducted from the general area of the SINPO-class submarine’s homeport at the Sinpo South Naval Shipyard and that the short flight trajectories were either northeast towards Kimchaek or southwest in the direction of Wonsan. The images of the test released by KCNA depict Kim Jong-un standing on a boat with a submarine in the background that one is led to believe conducted the test. (Joseph Bermudez, “Underwater Test-Fire of Korean-Style Powerful Strategic Submarine Ballistic Missile,” 38North, May 13, 2015) Michael Elleman, who served as a missile expert for the UN team that conducted weapons inspections in Iraq after the Persian Gulf War, said in a May 19 e-mail that the test is likely the “second step in the overall [North Korean] process of developing an SLBM capability.” The United States performed similar “pop-out” tests for the Polaris SLBM program, he said. The first step is ejecting a missile from a launch tube on the ground, Elleman said. Elleman, who is now with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said North Korea still must take a number of steps before it can reliably deploy an SLBM. A typical sequence would include additional ejection tests from a submerged barge, land-based tests of the missile, and then a full flight test of the SLBM from the barge and submarine, he said. At a May 19 event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Adm. James Winnefeld, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that North Korea is not as far along as its “spinmeisters would have us believe” and remains “many years away” from an SLBM capability. Elleman said North Korea has “demonstrated a willingness to accept risks for weapons performance and reliability,” so the SLBM could be deployed sooner, but would likely have a reliability of less than 50 percent. Elleman noted several operational obstacles to North Korean deployment of SLBMs, including developing secure communications with the submarine and establishing a command-and-control system. The latter could be difficult for the Kim Jong-un regime, Elleman said, as most dictators “do not enjoy delegating authorities,” especially with nuclear warheads involved. North Korea’s capability to deploy an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of delivering nuclear weapons also is in dispute. North Korea claims its KN-08, or Hwasong-13, a road-mobile ballistic missile, is capable of reaching the United States with a nuclear warhead. That distance is more than 5,500 kilometers and therefore puts the KN-08 in the ICBM category. North Korea is estimated to have six to eight plutonium-based warheads and may have additional warheads that use highly enriched uranium. The KN-08 was first paraded in April 2012. At that time, many analysts said they believed the missile to be a mock-up. Subsequent displays of the missile have featured more-plausible design features, but there is still controversy about the extent of the missile’s development and how close the missile is to operational status. It is not known to have been flight-tested. A May 20 story on Foreign Policy’s website quoted National Security Council spokesman Patrick Ventrell as saying that the United States does not think that North Korea can miniaturize a warhead to put on a ballistic missile. But Adm. William Gortney, the head of U.S. Northern Command, told reporters at the Pentagon on April 7 that it is the U.S. assessment that the KN-08 is operational and North Korea could use the missile to shoot a nuclear warhead at the United States. Elaine Bunn, deputy assistant secretary of defense of nuclear and missile defense policy, said at an April 7 event at CSIS that the “reliability of an untested KN-08 is likely to be very low.” In the May 19 e-mail, Elleman said that if the KN-08 were deployed today, it would likely “fail more often than not” but that, for deterrence purposes, North Korea “gain[s] considerable dissuasive capacity” by deploying the missile. (Kelsey Davenport, “North Korea Tests Missile for Submarine,” Arms Control Today, June 2015)

North Korea met a U.S. diplomatic overture with a fresh show of force, seemingly testing the Obama administration’s resolve for new nuclear talks. After three years of diplomatic deadlock, the U.S. had appeared receptive to preliminary discussions to assess North Korea’s intentions and the prospects of ridding the country of nuclear weapons. Then came Saturday’s claim that North Korea successfully test-fired a newly developed ballistic missile from a submarine. Not long after that announcement, South Korean officials said the North fired three anti-ship cruise missiles into the sea off its east coast. The State Department said launches using ballistic missile technology are “a clear violation” of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Washington urged North Korea “to refrain from actions that further raise tensions in the region and focus instead on taking concrete steps toward fulfilling its international commitments and obligations.” (Matthew Pennington, “North Korea’s Show of Force Slaps at U.S. Diplomatic Overtures,” Associated Press, May 9, 2015) Some North Korea observers believe the provocative acts are apparently aimed at pressuring South Korea and the U.S. to change their policy toward the reclusive country. Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, said, “The North is trying to increase political and military uncertainties on the peninsula to create an impetus for talks with the South or the U.S.” Prof. Koh Yoo-hwan of Dongguk University also said that a series of provocations from the North was testing U.S. “strategic patience.” “By flexing its military muscles, the North wants to show that U.S. policy is a failure, urging it to change its policy toward the country,” Koh said. The North is expected to stick to a show of force for the time being. “During the first half of the year, the North is likely to provoke the South,” said World Institute for North Korea Studies head An Chan-il. But he said that to ease its financial difficulties, the North might shift to dialogue mode ahead of the 70th anniversary of the division of the Korean Peninsula and Korea’s liberation from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule. “The North is likely to commit itself to holding a high-level meeting or an inter-Korean summit in its efforts to lead the South to lift its May 24 economic sanctions or resume tours to Mt. Geumgang,” An said. (Kang Seung-woo, “Pyongyang Spiking Tensions on Peninsula,” Korea Times, May 10, 2015)

While some analysts perceived a severe blow to U.S. appetite for dealing with North Korea after that failed deal, current and former administration officials say that efforts have continued unabated. “This is an administration that has taken risks, shown flexibility, engaged countries with which we’ve had difficult relationships,” Syd Seiler, Washington’s special envoy for the six-party talks, told a conference in Seoul last week, calling them the “best environment” for renewed dialogue. “It’s a caricature . . . that the US is demanding that North Korea should denuclearise before talks resume,” he added. Yet Washington has not specified what prior steps North Korea should take to clear the way for talks. Some in Washington argue that North Korea should first take measures promised under previous pacts — such as freezing nuclear development and accepting international inspectors — but Pyongyang says talks should happen without preconditions. “My feeling is that if the North Koreans would commit to a test moratorium, that could be a basis for going back,” says Victor Cha, who served as an adviser on Asia policy to former president George W Bush. He says the Obama administration believes its diplomacy is transformational “and they just need a shot.” Washington, according to Cha, has “taken the lead” on some areas of North Korea policy from Seoul, where President Park Geun-hye has made calmer relations with Pyongyang a key pledge of her administration. But the redoubled efforts to resume talks have sparked alarm from some South Korean conservatives. Talks without preconditions would “be the starting point for another failure”, says Kim Tae-hyo, former chief foreign policy adviser to Park’s predecessor Lee Myung-bak. “If you really want negotiations, you have to gear up pressure against North Korea from the beginning.” Chinese vice-foreign minister Wu Dawei this week affirmed Beijing’s position that Pyongyang should halt nuclear activities and readmit international inspectors, while pledging to push it to return to talks, South Korea’s foreign ministry said. But some analysts warn that the would-be negotiators have only a few months to begin talks before US-South Korean joint military exercises in August, which typically bring fierce protests from Pyongyang. Others argue that talks and offers of assistance cannot push Pyongyang to step back from its nuclear work, arguing for new sanctions that would more severely disrupt the North Korean economy — despite the potential knock-on effects for parts of China’s financial sector. “I don’t agree with those who think North Korea will never abandon its nuclear ambitions under any circumstances,” Chun Yung-woo, South Korea’s chief negotiator at the six-party talks from 2006 to 2007, said after Seiler’s remarks at last week’s conference. “But under the current sanctions regime, even if I were Kim Jong-un, I would have no incentive.” (Simon Mundy, “U.S. and China Seek to Restart Nuclear Talks with Pyongyang,” Financial Times, May 9, 2015)


5/10/15:
A South Korean special presidential envoy met briefly with North Korea’s No. 2 man during a weekend war victory ceremony in Moscow, but they had no “serious talks” on bilateral relations, diplomatic sources here said. Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun, the special envoy for South Korean President Park Geun-hye, encountered Kim Yong-nam, North Korea’s ceremonial head of state, during the Saturday ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, according to the sources. During the ceremony, Yoon encountered Kim and had a brief conversation with the North Korean official, a Seoul official said, adding that the two just exchanged pleasantries and had “no significant dialogue.” Yoon, a member of South Korea’s ruling Saenuri Party, is said to have expressed his hope that inter-Korean relations will make steady progress down the road. Kim attended the ceremony on behalf of leader Kim Jong-un. according to Seoul officials. Yoon, who doubles as one of Park’s special advisers for political affairs, has called for “active, disclosed, behind-the-scene contacts with North Korea” to find a breakthrough in the inter-Korean relations. “I have no plan (to meet with Kim Yong-nam in Moscow). But if there is a chance to contact the North Korean side, I will express the Park government’s sincerity on inter-Korean dialogue,” Yoon said on March 8 before departing for Russia. He did not carry any of President Park’s messages for North Korea. (Yonhap, “S. Korean Special Envoy Meets N.K.’s No. 2 Man in Moscow,” May 10, 2015)

Kim Kyok-sik, the hard-line North Korean general who South Korean analysts and officials have said was behind two deadly attacks on South Korea, died, Rodong Sinmun reported. He was 77. General Kim was the commander of a North Korean Army corps whose units South Korea accused in the sinking of a South Korean Navy ship, the Cheonan, in March 2010. General Kim’s front-line units were also accused of shelling a South Korean border island, Yeonpyeong, that year, killing two marines and two civilians. South Korean officials singled out General Kim as one of the top North Korean military officers who plotted the attacks. General Kim held crucial military posts, including the head of the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces and the chief of the General Staff of the North Korean People’s Army, under the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his late father, Kim Jong-il. Although Kim Kyok-sik retained his four-star rank, he recently retired from central military posts as Kim Jong-un elevated younger generals in the military hierarchy. (Choe Sang-hun, “Kim Kyok-sik, Hard-Line North Korean General, Dies at 77,” New York Times, May 12, 2015, P. B-15)


5/11/15:
CRS: “Congress has at times expressed concern regarding ballistic missile and nuclear programs in Iran, North Korea, and Syria. This report focuses primarily on unclassified and declassified U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) assessments over the past two decades. These assessments indicate that there is no evidence that Iran and North Korea have engaged in nuclear-related trade or cooperation with each other, although ballistic missile technology cooperation between the two is significant and meaningful, and Syria has received ballistic missiles and related technology from North Korea and Iran and also engaged in nuclear technology cooperation with North Korea.” (Congressional Research Service, Iran-North Korea-Syria Ballistic Missile and Nuclear Cooperation, R43480, May 11, 2015)

A delegation from the Foreign Ministry of Thailand is currently visiting Pyongyang, according to KCNA. The group is led by Thailand’s Vice Foreign Affairs Minister Don Pramudwinai, but the article gave no further details on the visit. The diplomatic visit comes just four days after the DPRK and Thailand issued joint postage stamps depicting North Korean and Thai birds to commemorate 40 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries, according to North Korea’s Pyongyang Time. Relations between Thailand and the DPRK have warmed recently, after a long-standing chill arising from North Korea defaulting on a large rice debt early in the last decade. So far in 2015, Thailand has been North Korea’s top import partner, according to figures from the UN Comtrade database. Although China and South Korea do not report their North Korea statistics to the UN, trade with Thailand appears to have bounced back after dramatic decreases after 2006. Last year North Korean imports of Thai goods were nearly five times their 2011 equivalents, at more than $100 million in value. So far in 2015, North Korea has continued its policy of buying relatively large quantities of tin and rubber from Thailand. Overall, DPRK traders have already spent more than $11 million the raw materials from the southeast Asian country. A previous NK News investigation indicated that Thailand may have breached UN luxury sanctions in exporting luxury cars to North Korea last year. Other exports included motorbikes and a very large quantity of chicken curry. (Leon Byrne, “Thai Delegation in North Korea amid Growing Ties,” NKNews, May 12, 2015)


5/12/15:
President Park Geun-hye in a rare meeting of top security officials, said, “North Korea’s development of a submarine-launched ballistic missile is a serious challenge that undermines stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia,” noting Pyongyang is banned from any ballistic missile activity under U.N. resolutions. She also called on officials to maintain strong deterrence in cooperation with the United States over North Korea’s provocative acts, presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook said in a written briefing. The participants included Park’s security adviser, the spy chief, the defense minister, the foreign minister and South Korea’s point man on North Korea, Min said. The meeting — the first in a year — came three days after North Korea claimed that leader Kim Jong-un oversaw a successful underwater test-launching of a “strategic submarine ballistic missile.” (Yonhap, “Park: N. Korean Development of Submarine Missile Serious Challenge,” May 12, 2015)

China’s trade with North Korea fell 13 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, data showed, as an indication of Beijing’s frayed ties with Pyongyang. Beijing’s trade with Pyongyang reached $1.1 billion in the January-March period, down from $1.27 billion in the same period last year, according to data by the Korea International Trade Association (KITA). It posted a trade surplus of $17.7 million. China’s exports to North Korea came in at $563 million in the first quarter, down 15.6 percent from a year earlier. Beijing’s imports from its neighbor reported a 9.8 percent on-year fall to reach $545 million in the cited period. China’s trade with North Korea reached $6.36 billion in 2014, down 2.76 percent from a year earlier and the first yearly decline since 2009. The downward trend is seen as being extended into this year, the data showed. (Yonhap, “China’s Trade with N. Korea Falls 13 Pct On-Year in Q1,” May 12, 2015)

Japan formally announced the U.S. Air Force will deploy a squadron of tilt-rotor CV-22 Osprey aircraft at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo in 2017. The news immediately drew a chorus of protests from residents of towns and cities in the area. However, Japanese officials immediately welcomed the announcement and tried to downplay concerns about the controversial plane’s safety. The U.S. Defense Department said in a statement that the first three aircraft will arrive at Yokota in the second half of 2017, and an additional seven are scheduled be stationed there by 2021. Yokota Air Base occupies parts of the cities and towns of Fussa, Mizuho, Tachikawa, Hamura, Musashimurayama, and Akishima in western Tokyo. “(The deployment) in our country will bolster the deterrent power of the Japan-U.S. alliance and its capability to cope with” various emergencies, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide told a news conference, welcoming the Pentagon announcement. Many local residents have complained of noise generated by U.S. military aircraft taking off or landing at the base and are concerned about the possibility of accidents. “It will also help stabilize the Asia-Pacific region,” he added. “Surrounding areas of the base are crammed with houses,” said Katsuhiko Iwata, 75, a leading member of a residential group that deals with issues involving the Yokota base. “If an aircraft were to crash, it would cause a great deal of damage.” The base’s fences are surround by houses, schools and hospitals — a situation similar to the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma base in Okinawa Prefecture. “In the U.S., (Ospreys) don’t fly over residential areas,” Iwata said. “What do they think Japan is … a colony?” (Yoshida Reiji, “U.S. to StationOspreys at Yokota Air Base Starting in 2017,” Japan Times, May 12, 2015)

Police arrested the son of North Korea’s unofficial ambassador to Japan for allegedly smuggling expensive mushrooms into the country, in the latest incident underlining the increasing tensions between Tokyo and Pyongyang. The arrest on Tuesday of Ho Jong Do, the son of Ho Jong Man, leader of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, also known as “Chosen Soren” in Japanese, was the latest such raid. Hong Jong Do was among three people arrested on charges of smuggling 1,800 kilograms, or about 4,000 pounds, of prized matsutake mushrooms into Japan in September 2010, contravening Japanese sanctions imposed against North Korea in 2006 as punishment for its missile and nuclear tests. He is accused of shipping the mushrooms, with a declared customs value of about $38,000, into ­China and then importing them into Japan as Chinese-grown. Police searched the offices of Korean Product Sales in Tokyo, where Hon Jong Do is president, a year ago and searched six Chosen Soren leaders’ houses in March. At the time, Korean Central News Agency called the raids “a despicable act of fanning antagonism” toward North Korea. In the absence of diplomatic ties between Tokyo and Pyongyang, the Chosen Soren has functioned as North Korea’s de facto embassy in Japan and Ho Jong Man as its de facto ambassador. An angry Ho Jong Man denounced the charges. “It’s complete nonsense and a plot. There’s not even a 0.1-millimeter violation of the law,” he told reporters outside his house. “This is the fault of the prime minister’s office for allowing the police to act irresponsibly and groundlessly. This will seriously affect ­Japan-North Korea relations.” But Suga Yoshihide the chief cabinet secretary, said that the investigation was based on law and evidence. “There is no change in our position to strongly demand North Korea promptly carry out an investigation [on Japanese abductees] based on the Japan-North Korea agreement and quickly and honestly report its outcome to Japan,” Suga said at a news conference. (Anna Fifield, “Japan Arrests Son of Unofficial North Korean Envoy in Mushroom Case,” Washington Post, May 12, 2015)


5/13/15:
North Korea informed South Korea of its plan to stage firing drills near the tensely guarded western sea border this week, the military here said, in its latest show of force that has heightened inter-Korean tensions. In a notice to Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), “the North’s Command in Southwestern Sector of Front said it will carry out firing drills anytime between 3 p.m. today and midnight Friday in their territorial waters just above the Northern Limit Line (NLL),” according to its officials. “The bellicose regime designated two areas just above the NLL for its planned live-fire drills — one some 10 kilometers away from the South’s Baengnyeong Island and 12 kilometers away from the island of Yeonpyeong,” the JCS said. (Oh Seok-min, “N. Korea Vows Firing Drills in Yellow Sea This Week: Seoul Ministry,” Yonhap, May 13, 2015)

North Korea has executed its defense chief on charges of treason, South Korea’s spy agency said, in the latest sign of a reign of terror by leader Kim Jong-un. Hyon Yong-chol, the chief of North Korea’s People’s Armed Forces, was executed by firing squad using an anti-aircraft gun at a military school in Pyongyang around April 30, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) said. Hyon, 66, was seen dozing off during a military event and did not carry out Kim’s instructions, a senior official of the agency told a group of reporters. The spy agency also gave a similar briefing to lawmakers in a closed-door parliamentary session. Hyon’s execution is the latest in a series of public executions in the communist country. Hyon was named as the armed forces chief in June 2014, the No. 2 man within the North’s military after Hwang Pyong-so, director of the general political department of the Korean People’s Army (KPA). North Korea has not announced its purge of Hyon yet. The NIS said that given available information, Hyon seemed to be purged not because he sought a rebellion but because he was “disrespectful” to the young leader. Over the past six months, Kim punished other key senior officials including Ma Won-chun, director of the Designing Department at the North’s powerful National Defense Commission. “As key officials have voiced more complaints, Kim has deepened a reign of terror by purging them in negligence of proper procedure,” the official said. “We believe that there are growing doubts about Kim’s leadership among North Korean ranking officials.” The Ministry of Unification spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol said at a regular briefing, “North Korea is seeking to create an atmosphere of terror by employing such ways of execution in order to solidify his power,” ministry. “The government is closely watching how the young leader’s governing style will affect the regime in the long run.” The NIS added that since taking power, Kim has had about 70 senior officials executed. “The purge of Hyon seems to show that it is not acceptable to challenge Kim’s monolithic leadership,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies. “It would be an overestimate if (a series of purges) is seen as a source of instability in the North.” Daniel Pinkston, an analyst at the International Crisis Group, said that the purge is “the nature of authoritarian regimes,” adding that it is difficult for those thinking about launching a rebellion to take collective action in the North. “Violence always is lurking in the background as the instrument for resolving political differences,” he added. Meanwhile, the spy agency dismissed as “groundless” a report that the North’s leader ordered his aunt Kim Kyong-hui to be killed via poisoning in May last year. Noting that no abnormal signs within the North Korean military have been detected, Seoul’s Defense Ministry said it has been closely watching situations in the North with regards to its series of saber-rattling and internal affairs. (Yonhap, “N. Korea’s Defense Chief Executed: S. Korea Intel,” May 13, 2015) North Korean armed forces minister Hyon Yong-chol was executed because he fell afoul of a younger generation of technocrats that make up the core of leader Kim Jong-un’s regime, American experts estimate. Ex-State Department official John Merrill told Radio Free Asia there was probably conflict between Kim and the military over where to spend resources and money. Merrill based his surmise on the fact that several senior leaders in the unruly military have been purged while the technocrats seem secure in their posts. “Military officials in North Korea seem to be more under fire than those in charge of economic policy,” Merrill said. Premier Pak Pong-ju, the most senior technocrat, fell out of favor with former leader Kim Jong-il but was reappointed as premier in April 2013 and has since held on to his post. Meanwhile the chief of the Army politburo, the minister of the People’s Armed Forces, and the Army chief of staff — the top three military posts — have been reshuffled several times. Armed forces ministers have served on average eight months. Among more adventurous speculation here has been that Hyon was executed because he fell asleep during one of Kim’s speeches. But the government here believes Merrill may be on to something. “Since he took power, Kim Jong-un has given more weight to technocrats, promoting them to senior positions in the Workers Party, a supreme body superior to the Cabinet,” a government official here said. (Chosun Ilbo, “N. Korean Ex-Army Chief ‘Locked Horns with Technocrats,’” May 15, 2015)

North Korea carried out firing drills at night just north of the Northern Limit Line near Baeknyeong and Yeonpyeong islands off west coast. The North notified South Korean authorities earlier that the drills could last from 3 p.m. today until midnight March 15. The South Korean military plans to fire back if shells land south of the NLL. (Chosun Ilbo, “N. Korea Conducts Firing Drill near Sea Border,” May 14, 2015)


5/14/15:
North Korea launched a firing drill near the tensely patrolled western maritime border with the South for a second consecutive day, the South Korean military said. The artillery drill began at around 7:10 p.m. near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), but none of the artillery rounds landed on the south side of the sea border, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Launches 2nd Day of Firing Drills,” May 14, 2015)

The government approved two security-related bills whose enactment would allow Japan to exercise its right of collective self-defense on a limited basis, taking seamless action in support of multinational forces and responding to so-called gray-zone situations. The bills were approved in an extraordinary Cabinet meeting on this evening and were to be submitted to the Diet the next day. The government and ruling coalition intend to extend the current session of the Diet, which ends on June 24, to pass the bills. “The idea that a nation can protect itself by itself is no longer valid,” Prime Minister Abe Shinzo said at a press conference after the Cabinet decision. He stressed the need to shore up Japan’s security-related laws and stated that “By demonstrating to the world that the Japan-U.S. alliance functions, this in turn will strengthen Japan’s deterrence.” Abe also said, “Japan will never be involved in an American war.” He pledged to pass the bills during the current Diet session. To illustrate the “dire circumstances” surrounding Japan, Abe cited recent hostage situations in Algeria, Syria and Tunisia that involved Japanese nationals. He also referred to the nuclear and missile threats posed by North Korea, and the repeated approaches by foreign aircraft. The government and ruling parties expect deliberations to begin at the end of this month when they explain the aim of the bills at a plenary session of the House of Representatives and open them up to questions. Prior to the Cabinet meeting, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and coalition partner Komeito held a meeting of their joint council in the Diet building and reached a formal agreement to promote the security-related bills. Later, council chair and LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura visited the Prime Minister’s Office with vice council chair and Komeito deputy head Kazuo Kitagawa to report on the completion of the bills. The prime minister commended the council during the meeting, saying the outcome was the fruit of the “25 sessions that the council held to deliberate on and dig into issues.” Abe said he intended “to thoroughly explain to the public [the aim of the bills] in the Diet.” One of the two security-related bills would create a permanent law to support international peace, which would enable the Self-Defense Forces to provide logistic support to multinational forces. By enacting a new permanent law, the government would no longer be required to legislate a special measures law each time such action is called for. However, prior Diet approval would be required to dispatch the SDF on overseas missions. A new rule was also included that would require both the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors to endeavor to give their approval within seven days if the prime minister asks for a swift decision. The second bill is a legislative package aimed at revising 10 existing peace and security-related laws, including the Armed Attack Situation Response Law (to be renamed to include situations where threats to Japan’s survival are imminent), the Self-Defense Forces Law and the United Nations Peacekeeping Activities Cooperation Law. With regard to exercising the nation’s right of collective self-defense, the Armed Attack Situation Response Law would be revised to include the new idea of “threats to Japan’s survival.” Such threats would be defined as “situations where an armed attack against a foreign country that is in a close relationship with Japan occurs and as a result, threatens Japan’s survival and poses a clear danger to overturn fundamentally its people’s right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.” The revised law would enable the SDF to mobilize on this premise. Furthermore, the Law Concerning Measures to Ensure the Peace and Security of Japan in Situations in Areas Surrounding Japan would be revised and renamed in connection with security in “situations that could significantly affect Japan.” The words “areas surrounding Japan” would be deleted from the revised law to make clear that geographical restrictions no longer apply. Amendments would also be made to enable the SDF to provide support to military forces other than U.S. forces. The peacekeeping activities cooperation law would be revised to expand Japan’s contributions by including international activities that are similar to U.N.-mandated missions but have no direct connection with the United Nations. The government also decided in Thursday’s Cabinet meeting to hold extraordinary Cabinet meetings by phone if a quick response is needed to a gray-zone situation, which cannot be immediately determined to be an armed attack. Cabinet meetings by phone would be called in three scenarios: a militant group lands on one of Japan’s remote islands; a foreign vessel violates international law within Japan’s territorial waters; or a privately owned Japanese vessel is raided in the high seas. (Yomiuri Shimbun, “Cabinet Approves 2 Security Bills; Turning Point for Japan’s Defense Policy,” May 14, 2014)


5/15/15:
Jeffrey Lewis: “Most of the people who invoke the failure of the Agreed Framework couldn’t tell you the first thing about it—other than that they “know” it didn’t work because North Korea now has nuclear weapons. But they are misguided. The 1994 Agreed Framework was a good deal. Would that we had been wise enough to keep it. Let’s start with three statements about North Korea and the Agreed Framework. These statements are basically accurate, but there are some very important clarifications and corrections. And it is within those corrections and clarifications that the logic of the Agreed Framework is evident. Assumption 1: In 1994, North Korea already had enough plutonium for one, possibly two nuclear weapons. Not quite. The US intelligence community believed North Korea had a stockpile of undeclared plutonium, but did not know whether that stockpile was a few grams or a few kilograms. There were good reasons to suspect that North Korea had a stockpile of undeclared plutonium. In 1989, the DPRK shut down the reactor at Yongbyon for about 70 days. North Korea may have unloaded some or all of the fuel rods in the reactor’s core during this period. There are good reasons for such a suspicion. Satellite images show the DPRK constructed what appear to be camouflaged waste tanks. Environmental samples taken by the IAEA showed the DPRK had conducted more reprocessing “campaigns” than Pyongyang had declared. But how much fuel was unloaded? How much plutonium was in the fuel? The US Joint Atomic Energy Intelligence Committee assessed the worst-case scenario of 8.3-8.5 kilograms of plutonium, revised down from an earlier estimate of 12 kilograms. That is enough for “one, possibly two” nuclear weapons depending on a number of factors such as how much plutonium the North Korean design required and how much might be lost during processing. This was a worst-case estimate. While it is important to ensure that our policies hedge against worst-case estimates, it is also important to hedge against uncertainty. The North Koreans might not have had more than few grams of separated plutonium. Or perhaps they had a few kilograms, but not enough for a bomb. We simply did not know then, and do not know now, how much plutonium North Korea squirreled away. The North Koreans, of course, admitted to only a few grams in 1994. Interestingly, they denied it again in 2006 when they declared a plutonium stockpile of 37 kilograms. Assumption 2: North Korea cheated on the Agreed Framework. Well, again, not quite. We should give the devil his due: North Korea largely kept its commitments regarding its plutonium-production capabilities. Starting a secret enrichment program, on the other hand, clearly violated understood expectations, a classic example of a transgressor obtaining a slight advantage in comparison with a relatively large inconvenience imposed upon the aggrieved party. This will get its own section. But freezing North Korea’s plutonium production was nothing to sneeze at. We might not have known how much separated plutonium North Korea possessed, but we had a pretty good idea how much unseparated plutonium was sitting in North Korea’s spent fuel pond in 1994. Moreover, we know how much plutonium North Korea would be able to produce each year if it completed the two much larger reactors under construction at Yongbyon and Taechon. The CIA spelled all this out quite clearly in 2002: “If North Korea abandoned the Agreed Framework Pyongyang could resume production of plutonium. Reprocessing the spent 5 MWe reactor fuel now in storage at the Yongbyon site under IAEA safeguards would recover enough plutonium for several more weapons. Restarting the 5 MWe reactor would generate about 6 kg per year. The 50 MWe reactor at Yongbyon and the 200 MWe reactor at Taechon would generate about 275 kg per year, although it would take several years to complete construction of these reactors.” The remaining 8,000 spent fuel rods—containing about 20-28 kilograms of plutonium—were placed in canisters and under IAEA safeguards. The 5 MWe reactor at Yongbyon was shut down and construction stopped at the 50 MWe reactor at Yongbyon and the 200 MWe reactor at Taechon. In 1998, the United States accused North Korea of building a secret plutonium production reactor and reprocessing facility underground, near a place called Kumchang-ri. Well, strictly speaking, DIA suspected that Kumchang-ri was an underground reactor and someone fed this to the New York Times, which ran it under the headline: NORTH KOREA SITE AN A-BOMB PLANT, U.S. AGENCIES SAY. The United States negotiated access to the site. When US inspectors arrived, they could not determine the purpose of the site, but concluded that Kumchang-ri, laid out as a grid of tunnels, was “unsuitable” for a nuclear reactor and “not well designed” for a reprocessing facility. The Agreed Framework was premised on a transformation of the political and economic relationship, a perhaps too ambitious expectation since even a DPRK without nuclear weapons is fundamentally unlikeable. North Korea’s human rights situation remained appalling. And the North Koreans continued to show an appalling enthusiasm for grabbing people, whether Japanese abducted in secret during the 1970s or Americans detained in recent years. The North Koreans also continued to develop, test and sell increasingly long-range ballistic missiles, something the Clinton administration sought to address after the 1998 Taepodong test. And, of course, we now know that the Clinton Administration was starting to get wind of the relationship with AQ Khan—which ultimately resulted in the missiles for centrifuge barter that would create so much turmoil in 2002. But in terms of the fundamental purpose of the agreement—to freeze the DPRK’s plutonium production capabilities—Pyongyang complied. Assumption 3: The Agreed Framework collapsed because North Korea started a centrifuge program. Again, not quite—but starting a secret centrifuge program certainly didn’t help, that’s for damned sure. The Agreed Framework was already under a lot of pressure as the Clinton Administration drew to a close. Congress exercised its power of the purse to involve itself in the implementation of the Agreed Framework, resulting in irregular deliveries of heavy fuel oil to North Korea and delays to the construction of light-water reactors. Even if Kumchang-ri turned out to be a dead-end, the leaks had weakened the agreement. And North Korea’s missile program, following the shock of the 1998 Taepodong test and continuing sales abroad, was a significant barrier to normalization of relations. The Clinton administration had asked former Secretary of Defense William Perry to review US policy toward North Korea. His approach, dubbed the “Perry Process,” implied seeking to build additional agreements on top of the Agreed Framework—starting with an agreement to end North Korea’s development of long-range ballistic missiles. The Clinton administration was this close to an agreement on missiles when the clock ran out. The Clinton administration, too, knew about North Korea’s centrifuge work—and had pressured Pakistan to cut off Pyongyang. The newly installed Bush administration undertook a policy review that stretched into 2002. The result of this review, it is often forgotten, was a version of the Perry Process, safely rebranded as the “bold approach.” This is forgotten because, before anyone could tell the North Koreans, the US received intelligence that indicated North Korea’s centrifuge program was much further along than previously thought. While the US intelligence community had known about North Korea’s interest in centrifuges, the scale of the procurement suggested a much more mature program. I do not want to suggest, as others have, that the DPRK’s enrichment program was purely for civil purposes. The North Koreans were clearly, in my view, giving themselves a second route to nuclear weapons. But the Bush administration had a fundamental choice: Under the Perry Process, the approach was to treat North Korea’s centrifuge program like its ballistic missile program or its abductions of foreign citizens—yet another instance of terrible North Korean behavior that had to be dealt with in time. In this case, the United States might have negotiated a new agreement to complement the freeze on the DPRK’s plutonium program provided by the Agreed Framework. The alternative, of course, was to blow up everything. Or, as John Bolton would write with exceptional candor, “This was the hammer I had been looking for to shatter the Agreed Framework.” The phrasing—“had been looking for”—is telling. I think this was the wrong choice—although I do suspect] a Gore Administration might have let the Agreed Framework succumb to political pressures under the same circumstances. The Perry Process was always about bigger carrots and bigger sticks, which is how we ended up with Perry suggesting we attack North Korea in 2006. We’ll never know how a Gore administration would have responded to new intelligence about the maturity of the North Korean enrichment effort. The politics though, don’t change the merits. Why on earth would our response to North Korean bad behavior be to free them from their obligations not to produce plutonium? Still, no one listens to me! The Bush administration decided to suspend US obligations under the Agreed Framework. The consequences were pretty straightforward. North Korea “effectuated” its withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, opened the cans of spent fuel and separated out the plutonium, restarted Yongbyon to produce even more plutonium, then conducted a nuclear explosion in 2006. I guess that showed ol’ Kim Jong Il. This policy was such a rousing success that the Bush administration used the Six Party Talks to renegotiate a much watered-down version of the Agreed Framework with North Korea. Of course, Bush didn’t call it that. (And since Bush had criticized the Agreed Framework as a mere “freeze” instead of a complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear programs, they dredged up an archaic word—“disablement—that sounded enough like dismantlement to save the President from any embarrassment. But come on. Here is how Bush described the Six Party Agreement in his memoir Decision Points: “In February 2007, North Korea agreed to shut down its main nuclear reactor and allow UN inspectors back into the country to verify its actions. In exchange, we and our Six-Party partners provided energy aid, and the United States agreed to remove North Korea from our list of state sponsors of terror.” Tell me how that isn’t an off-brand Agreed Framework, and I’ll laugh in your face. The United States even agreed to provide North Korea with light-water reactors, the element of the deal the Bush administration criticized most directly. Strangely, Bush doesn’t mention that in his memoir. So, what does all this mean? The fundamental logic of the Agreed Framework was sound. North Korea had a small, unknown stockpile of plutonium in 1994. It was on the verge of having much, much more. The United States successfully froze that stockpile—a freeze that lasted eight years. And when the Bush Administration chose to “shatter” the Agreement (Mr. Bolton’s characterization, not mine) the consequences were clear. North Korea has increased its stockpile of plutonium to more than 60 kilograms and conducted three nuclear explosions. Moreover, the United States failed utterly to constrain North Korea’s uranium enrichment program, which is now the major source of uncertainly about the size of North Korea’s nuclear stockpile. The same President who walked away from the agreement spent the final years of his term trying to resurrect it, albeit under a different name to avoid any admission of failure. The Agreed Framework was a very good deal even it if was an imperfect one. I am reluctant to draw too many conclusions about the framework announced to limit Iran’s nuclear program, but perhaps those fiddling with purse strings in Congress or looking for a hammer when they get into office should see the Agreed Framework as a cautionary tale. On the other hand, “disincrease” isn’t taken yet. So there’s that.” (Jeffrey Lewis, “Revisitng the Agreed Framework,” 38North, May 15, 2015)


5/16/15:
Speaking at a joint news conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing, Secretary of State John Kerry said he believed an Iran agreement could have “a positive influence” on North Korea, because it would show that giving up nuclear weapons improves domestic economies and ends isolation. He stressed, though, that there was no way to tell if North Korea’s reclusive leadership would be able to “internalize” such a message. “I am sure Foreign Minister Wang would join me in expressing the hope that if we can get an agreement with Iran, … that agreement would indeed have some impact or have a positive influence” on North Korea, Kerry said. (Matthew Lee, “Kerry: Iran Deal Could Be Lesson for North Korea,” Associated Press, May 16, 2015)

National Coordinating Committee of the DPRK on Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism spokesman: “A DPRK delegation visited the Secretariat of the Asia-Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG) in Sidney, Australia on May 3-8, 2015 and held negotiations with the Asia-Pacific Regional Review Group (APRRG) in Jakarta, Indonesia on May 13 and 14 at the invitation of APG. During the visit and negotiations both sides had honest and candid discussion on working issues of strengthening cooperation in anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism. APG affirmatively estimated the DPRK’s efforts for anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism and invited the DPRK to participate in the annual meeting of APG in July and it was agreed that a delegation of APG would visit Pyongyang in around August to further the discussion on the issues of mutual concern. The DPRK has maintained the consistent stand against anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism and will continue having the relations of close cooperation with international finance control organization in the future, too. (KCNA, “DPRK to Further Its Relations of Close Cooperation with Intl. Finance Control Organization,” May 16, 2015)


5/17/15:
After decades of maintaining a minimal nuclear force, China has re-engineered many of its long-range ballistic missiles to carry multiple warheads, a step that federal officials and policy analysts say appears designed to give pause to the United States as it prepares to deploy more robust missile defenses in the Pacific. Private analysts said each upgraded DF-5 had probably received three warheads and that the advances might span half the missile force. If so, the number of warheads China can fire from that weapon at the United States has increased to about 40 from 20. What makes China’s decision particularly notable is that the technology of miniaturizing warheads and putting three or more atop a single missile has been in Chinese hands for decades. But a succession of Chinese leaders deliberately let it sit unused; they were not interested in getting into the kind of arms race that characterized the Cold War nuclear competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. Now, however, President Xi Jinping appears to have altered course, at the same moment that he is building military airfields on disputed islands in the South China Sea, declaring exclusive Chinese “air defense identification zones,” sending Chinese submarines through the Persian Gulf for the first time and creating a powerful new arsenal of cyberweapons. American officials say that, so far, China has declined to engage in talks on the decision to begin deploying multiple nuclear warheads atop its ballistic missiles. “The United States would like to have a discussion of the broader issues of nuclear modernization and ballistic missile defense with China,” said Phillip C. Saunders, director of the Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs at National Defense University, a Pentagon-funded academic institution attended by many of the military’s next cadre of senior commanders. “The Chinese have been reluctant to have that discussion in official channels,” Mr. Saunders said, although he and other experts have engaged in unofficial conversations with their Chinese counterparts on the warhead issue. Beijing’s new nuclear program was reported deep inside the annual Pentagon report to Congress about Chinese military capabilities, disclosing a development that poses a dilemma for the Obama administration, which has never talked publicly about these Chinese nuclear advances. Already, there is talk in the Pentagon of speeding up the missile defense effort and of sending military ships into international waters near the disputed islands, to make it clear that the United States will insist on free navigation even in areas that China is claiming as its exclusive zone. “This is obviously part of an effort to prepare for long-term competition with the United States,” said Ashley J. Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who was a senior national security official in the George W. Bush administration. “The Chinese are always fearful of American nuclear advantage.” [?] American nuclear forces today outnumber China’s by eight to one. The choice of which nuclear missiles to upgrade was notable, Mr. Tellis said, because China chose “one of few that can unambiguously reach the United States.” In 1999, during the Clinton administration, Republicans in Congress charged that Chinese spies had stolen the secrets of H-bomb miniaturization. But intelligence agencies noted Beijing’s restraint. “For 20 years,” the C.I.A. reported, “China has had the technical capability to develop” missiles with multiple warheads and could, if so desired, upgrade its missile forces with MIRVs “in a few years.” Today, analysts see China’s addition of multiple warheads as at least partly a response to Washington’s antimissile strides. “They’re doing it,” Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists said, “to make sure they could get through the ballistic missile defenses.” The Pentagon report, released on May 8, said that Beijing’s most powerful weapon now bore MIRV warheads. The intercontinental ballistic missile is known as the DF-5 (for Dong Feng, or East Wind). The Pentagon has said that China has about 20 in underground silos. “It’s been a long time coming,” said Jeffrey Lewis, an expert on Chinese nuclear forces at the Monterey Institute of International Studies at Monterey. In an interview, he emphasized that even fewer of the DF-5s might have received the upgrade. Early last week, Kristensen posted a public report on the missile intelligence. Beijing’s new membership in “the MIRV club,” he said, “strains the credibility of China’s official assurance that it only wants a minimum nuclear deterrent and is not part of a nuclear arms race.” (David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, “China Makes Missiles More Potent in Move Seen as a Message to U.S.,” New York Times, May 17, 2015)


5/18/15:
Kim Jong-un has ordered a new aerospace entity to prepare to test-launch what the country calls a rocket carrying a satellite in October to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the country’s ruling party, sources in a number of governments said. Kim directly instructed the National Aerospace Development Administration earlier this year to implement the project that the United States, Japan and South Korea suspect will effectively be a test-launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile the secretive country is allegedly developing, according two of the sources. (Kyodo, “Kim Orders New Pyongyang Space Entity to Ready October Test-Launch of ICBM: Sources,” May 19, 2015)

Kerry: “To date, to this moment, particularly with its recent provocations, it is clear that the DPRK has not even come close to meeting that standard. Instead, it continues to pursue nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles; it continues to break promises and make threats; and it continues to show flagrant disregard for international law, while denying its own people the protection of fundamental freedoms and human rights. And that is why it is absolutely critical for the global community to continue to shed light on North Korea’s atrocities against its own people. That’s why it’s important for us to ramp up international pressure for North Korea to change its behavior. And that is why the United States and South Korea will continue to modernize our alliance in order to fully and decisively counter any threat that Pyongyang may pose to peace and security on the peninsula. And it is also why, for the first time, the UN Security Council last year took up the question of a referral of North Korea, and particularly Kim Jong-un’s behavior, to the International Criminal Court. And if their horrific conduct continues, it is hard to see how that referral to the Criminal Court would not take place. Their behavior is against all notions of conscience, all standards of behavior, anywhere in the world. It is among the very worst, and we will increasingly shed light on the nature of that behavior against its people — not just against the elite that it’s willing to execute, but against its own people who it’s willing to oppress and starve. … Is there a change or a shift? And the answer is we are more determined than ever to find a way to convince Kim Jong-un and North Korea that all they are doing now is isolating themselves further and creating greater risks to the region and to their own country. Everyone is determined to try to get to a genuine negotiation, but not to talks for the sake of talks. We have to have some indication from the leader of North Korea that they’re serious about engaging on the subject of their nuclear program. And when some people say, well, why don’t you just sit down and talk to them? The answer is everybody that I have listed has tried to reach out and offer a different path. Kim Jong-un recently rebuffed the invitation of President Putin to go to Russia; he has rebuffed the overtures of the leaders of China to engage on this topic; he has rebuffed our quiet efforts to try to reach out and engage in a discussion; and he has rebuffed the efforts of President Park to engage. So no one should be under any illusion. This is an individual who has said no to every effort to reach out and find a reasonable way forward. And as a result of that, we are indeed talking about ways to increase the pressure and increase the potential of either sanctions or other means of making it clear to him that he is on a very dangerous course in the missile systems and pursuit, continued pursuit of his nuclear weapons program. The SLBM is just one more example of that: provocative and contrary to the United Nations requirements; contrary to all international standards that he is supposed to live by. It’s one more element of provocation. And it really ties in to this question of the nature of the executions and the behavior of Kim Jong-un. The world is hearing increasingly more and more stories of grotesque, grizzly, horrendous public displays of executions on a whim and a fancy by the leader against people who were close to him and sometimes for the most flimsy of excuses. That is a manifestation also of the lack of opportunity and possibilities that most of the people of North Korea have in their lives, which makes his leadership one of the most egregious examples of reckless disregard for human rights and for human beings anywhere on the planet. That is why the UN is looking at this issue of human rights and International Criminal Court, and I can assure you that we will intend to continue to not only put focus on that part of his behavior but also to find some way to come to a reasonable negotiation. A final comment: The United States has said many times, and I repeat today, we are not seeking conflict; we are seeking a peaceful resolution of the differences that still exist after so many years on the peninsula. We have offered humanitarian assistance. We offer the possibilities of a normal relationship with normal economic assistance and other kinds of engagement with the rest of the world if he will simply make the decision to come to the table and deal on the issue of his nuclear program. There is a stark comparison between the direction in which he is moving and the direction in which Iran has chosen to move, at least to this moment. And our hopes are that if we can, at the end of June, succeed in achieving an agreement with Iran, perhaps that can serve as an example to North Korea about a better way to move, a better way to try to behave, a more legitimate entry road to the global community and to the norms of international behavior. … Q: Secretary Kerry, can you give more specifics on how you plan to boost sanctions or pressure against North Korea? And is — and has China come on board with the idea of referring Kim Jong-un to the International Criminal Court? And the rejections from the North Koreans thus far, how much is that an indicator of China not having as much leverage on the North, or perhaps the Chinese haven’t exerted enough pressure? … KERRY: So I’ll be very quick. With respect to the ICC, the International Criminal Court, no decision has yet been made. What I said in my comments is that the current behavior is certain to attract increased scrutiny of the Security Council, increased scrutiny of the UN, and is well on its way to leading to that kind of referral. But a decision has obviously not yet been made, and no country has yet said publicly what it believes should happen or should not happen. But the behavior gets worse and it’s hard to imagine that given the current level of behavior, it isn’t going to ultimately wind up in that direction, which is what I said. With respect to the methodology for the boosting of sanctions and other things, we’re discussing all of that now. China obviously has extraordinary leverage. And China, to its credit — and this is very important — China has made many very significant additional steps in order to put additional pressure on North Korea. China, in fact, has not yet even met with Kim Jong-un and has undertaken a number of trade measures, a number of border measures, a number of other decisions which have an impact on the flow of goods into North Korea. And so there’s no issue about whether or not China has been a real partner in trying to move things. Are there some things that all of us think might be able to done — be ratcheted up? I think that’s true for all of us that there are things that we could do. But we — this was part of the purpose of my coming out here now to engage in this discussion. And we will have a Security — Economic and Security Dialogue with the Chinese in Washington in June, and that will be the moment where we will table some of these specific steps and begin to see if we can become more defined about the road that we’re all prepared to consider in the days ahead.” (DoS, Joint Press Availability with ROK Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, Seoul, May 18, 2015)

Secretary of State John Kerry called for increased international pressure on the government of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, berating the country’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and its “horrendous” executions of people close to the leader. “The world is hearing increasingly more and more stories of grotesque, grisly, horrendous, public displays of executions on a whim and fancy by the leader against people who were close to him, sometimes on the flimsiest of excuses,” Kerry said, referring to Kim, during a news conference in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. Kerry made the comment in response to a recent report that Kim had ordered one of his top generals, the minister of the People’s Armed Forces, Hyon Yong-chol, executed with an antiaircraft gun for disloyalty. Kerry called Kim’s government “one of the most egregious examples of reckless disregard for human rights and human beings anywhere on the planet.” He added that Mr. Kim’s behavior only increased the likelihood that he would face charges at the International Criminal Court. “That is why it is important for us to ramp up international pressure on North Korea to change its behavior,” Mr. Kerry said during the joint news conference with his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-se. “If their horrific conduct continues, it is hard to see how that referral to the criminal court would not take place.” (Choe Sang-hun, “Kerry Calls for More Pressure on North Korea for Horrific Acts,” New York Times, May 18, 2015) Kerry threatened tougher sanctions on North Korea to “ramp up” the pressure on the “grisly” regime of leader Kim Jong-un. “This is an individual who has said no to every effort” to hold talks on his country’s nuclear program, Kerry said at joint briefing with South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung Se in Seoul. “We are more determined than ever to find a way to convince Kim Jong-un and North Korea that all they are doing now is isolating themselves further and creating greater risks for the region and for their country.” Kerry added, “The U.S. continues to offer Pyongyang an improved bilateral relationship if and only if and when it demonstrates a genuine willingness to fulfill denuclearization obligations and commitments and when it shows a willingness to address other important concerns shared by the international community.” Kim has since purged dozens of high-level officials and may have executed his defense minister Hyon Yong Chol with an anti-aircraft gun, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service told lawmakers last week. “It really ties into this question of the nature of the executions and the behavior of Kim Jong-un,” Kerry said, adding that his regime was “one of the most egregious examples of reckless disregard for human rights.” South Korean President Park Geun Hye called Kim’s rule an “extreme reign of terror,” saying last week that many South Koreans are frightened about uncertainties in North Korea. On Monday, North Korea called her a “viper,” blaming her for tensions between the two countries. “North Korea is reacting violently to Park’s remark,” said Cheong Seong Chang, a North Korea analyst at the Sejong Institute near Seoul. “Relations between North Korea and South Korea may be as good as over this year.” “We have to have some indication from the leader of North Korea that they are serious about engaging the subject of their nuclear program.” Kerry said. Kerry said Kim may face prosecution by the International Criminal Court for committing human rights abuses that amount to crimes against humanity. (Sangwon Yoon and Sam Kim, “Kerry Threatens Tougher Sanctions on ‘Grisly’ North Korea Regime,” Bloomberg, May 18, 2015)

Controversy over Washington’s alleged push to station an advanced U.S. missile defense unit on the peninsula was reignited when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry raised the issue for the first time during his trip to Seoul. At a meeting with U.S. troops and Foreign Service officers, the top diplomat cited North Korea’s ongoing creation of a nuclear arsenal and other “extraordinarily provocative activities” to stress the significance of the deployment of ships, forces and other assets here to prepare for “every eventual outcome.” “Nobody quite knows what America’s first line of defense in Seoul will do,” Kerry said. “This is why we need to deploy ships, forces … and we are talking about THAAD,” he added. South Korea and the U.S. quickly attempted to downplay his remarks, saying that the issue had not been discussed at all between the two governments including at his talks with Foreign Minister Yun earlier in the day. The U.S. Embassy here also reaffirmed this stance. “The secretary was attending an internal event and speaking to an internal U.S. audience,” it was quoted as saying by Seoul officials. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, also said that the allies were “each considering” the matter and will engage in formal discussions “eventually.” “At some point in the future I think we will consider it (deployment) when the time is right. … Both the countries share consideration not only of military factors but also political factors,” he was quoted as saying by the Munhwa Ilbo after a forum in Seoul. (Shin Hyon-hee, “Missile Defense Dispute Reignited,” Korea Herald, May 19, 2015)

South Korea said it proposed holding talks last week with North Korea this week on a joint industrial complex in the North amid a row over a wage hike, but Pyongyang has rejected the offer, saying an atmosphere for dialogue has not been created. . (Yonhap, “N. Korea Rejects S. Korea’s Offer for Talks on Joint Industrial Park,” Korea Herald, May 18, 2015)


5/19/15:
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he will visit the Kaesong industrial complex this week to help ease inter-Korean tensions. “I reiterate my willingness to do whatever it takes to contribute to improving inter-Korean relations and promoting reconciliation and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” Ban said during a press conference at the World Education Forum in Songdo, west of Seoul. On Thursday, Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, will be the first U.N. chief to visit the complex. He will also be the first U.N. chief to visit North Korea in more than 20 years. “The Kaesong project is a win-win model for both Koreas,” he said. “It symbolizes a good way to tap the advantages of the Koreas in a complementary manner.” More than 53,000 North Koreans have been hired to work for some 120 South Korean firms located in the complex. “I believe it would be better for North Korea to have close exchanges with the international community, to open up, and to focus on (improving) its living conditions and economic development,” he said. Ban also urged the two Koreas to address all pending issues through dialogue. “Peace and security on the Korean Peninsula is one of my top priorities as secretary-general,” he said. “All parties will benefit from renewed engagement and commitment to dialogue.” (Lee Haye-ah, “U.N. Chief to Visit Kaesong Industrial Complex in N. Korea,” Yonhap, May 19, 2015) “I reiterate my willingness to do whatever it takes to contribute to improving inter-Korean relations and promoting reconciliation and stability in the region,” he said during a press conference at the World Education Forum in the Songdo Convensia. Whether Ban will meet with any of North Korea’s high-profile politicians is unclear yet. For now, he plans to visit South Korean factories operating at the complex and meet with North Korean workers there. “The Gaeseong project is a win-win model for both Koreas,” he said. “It symbolizes a good way to tap the advantages of the Koreas in a complementary manner. “The main purpose of the visit is to encourage more of such cooperation.” Jung Min-ho and Jun Ji-hye, “U.N. Chief Offers to Mediate on N.K. Threat,” Korea Times, May 19, 2015)

South Korea said it has decided to provide about 1 billion won ($917,850) to support the physically handicapped in North Korea, a move aimed at boosting inter-Korean cooperation. The Ministry of Unification said that it plans to tap into an inter-Korean cooperative fund to provide rehabilitation goods and nourishing food to those who are physically handicapped in the North, the first time since 2009 that Seoul has used the fund to support disabled people in North Korea. The move is part of Seoul’s decision to assist the North with a combined 10.6 billion won through the fund, it said. The government said it will offer $6.1 million to support the U.N. agencies’ program to help North Korean mothers and infants. The remainder will be provided to support a set of projects for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, it added. “The move will pave the way to open channels for inter-Korean cooperation as it could help improve the humanitarian situation in North Korea and help separated families,” a ministry official said. (Yonhap, “S. Korea to Offer 1 Billion to Support Handicapped in N. Korea,” Korea Herald, May 19, 2015)

Out of 800 surveyed, some 82 percent said they support Seoul’s assistance to North Korea, while less than 16 percent opposed it, according to a survey by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) carried out in April. As for reasons for support, about 36 percent of aid proponents cited “humanitarian duty,” given the serious food situation facing North Korean children. Some 34 percent said they prioritized children above all else and 18 percent said the situation for North Korean children was just too serious. More than 11 percent of the aid proponents said Seoul’s assistance could help relieve inter-Korean tension. Earlier in the day, South Korea approved aid of 1 billion won (US$917,000) to assist the disabled in North Korea, a move hailed by UNICEF chief Anthony Lake. “This represents the popular will of the people in South Korea,” he told Yonhap. (Park Sojong, “Most S. Koreans Support Aid to N. Korea: UNICEF,” Yonhap, May 19, 2015)


5/20/15:
DPRK FoMin spokesman’s statement: “The U.S. going reckless in its smear campaign against the DPRK in a bid to get rid of the miserable position it is finding itself due to the total failure in its hostile policy toward the DPRK. …While visiting south Korea U.S. Secretary of State Kerry ran the whole gamut of invectives against the DPRK on May 18. He blustered that north Korea is increasing military threats by persistently developing nukes and ballistic missiles, it is necessary to escalate international pressure on it to force it to change its behavior and the world community should jointly react against the state making cyberattack. Kerry went the lengths of pulling up the DPRK supreme headquarters in a bid to tarnish the image of the DPRK and justify the bankrupt “human rights” racket against it. What Kerry uttered was nothing but the jargon let loose by the loser admitting a total failure of the hostile policy of the Obama Administration towards the DPRK as it was its last-ditch efforts to evade the responsibility for having driven the DPRK-U.S. relations to the worst phase. …The U.S. has already been disqualified to talk about dialogue and the nuclear issue due to the anachronistic moves to stifle the DPRK. The DPRK provided the U.S. with a series of opportunities for realizing the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in the past period. But the U.S. did not roll back its inveterate hostile policy toward the DPRK and missed all the opportunities. In January last, the DPRK showed the willingness to put a moratorium on the nuclear test if the U.S. temporarily discontinues the provocative joint military exercises against it. However, the U.S. turned down this offer, scuppering the last chance to settle the nuclear issue. No progress can be made in the DPRK-U.S. relations unless the U.S. drops its inveterate and chronic repugnance and its hostile policy towards the DPRK. The U.S. should fundamentally change its viewpoint on the DPRK in order to stem the current trend of vicious cycle of confrontation and tension. The Obama Administration will have to disappear from the arena, leaving the ill fame as the arch criminal torpedoing the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and escalating the tension on it. The U.S. would be well advised not to forget that its acts of getting on the nerves of the DPRK would only add to its pain.” (KCNA, “Reckless Remarks of U.S. Secretary of State Denounced,” May 20, 2015)

NDC Policy Department statement: “The U.S. and Japanese reactionaries, south Korean puppet authorities and other hostile forces every day let loose invectives against the DPRK over its underwater test-fire of ballistic missile from a strategic submarine. … It cannot overlook the sinister aim sought by the hostile forces in taking issue with its legitimate measure to bolster up the self-defense capability as a sovereign state and their provocative behaviors. …The DPRK’s underwater test-fire is part of the measures to increase the self-defense capability of its army and people, pursuant to the line of simultaneously developing the two fronts and a new higher level in the development of strategic striking means. It is long since the DPRK’s nuclear striking means have entered the stage of producing smaller nukes and diversifying them. The DPRK has reached the stage of ensuring the highest precision and intelligence and best accuracy of not only medium- and short-range rockets but long-range ones. It does not hide this. This is the DPRK’s just measure for bolstering up the capability for self-defense and a legitimate exercise of its sovereignty which it can never give up simply because someone brands it as a “provocation” or demands a “stop” to it. Now that the U.S. and all other undesirable hostile forces kowtowing to it are persistently “threatening” and “blackmailing” the DPRK and stepping up overtly and covertly their brigandish moves to invade it and “bring down its social system”, its service personnel and people all out in the drive for defending the security of the country and dignity of the nation will more dynamically push ahead at increasing speed with the plan for bolstering up the defense capability, undeterred by the moves. They should no longer dare pull up the DPRK over all its measures for bolstering up its military muscle for self-defense, terming them “provocation” and “threat.” It is the stand of the DPRK not to allow the U.S. and its allies to brand the former’s above-said test-fire as a “provocation” and “threat” to regional peace, pursuant to the “resolution” of the UNSC. This is because the UNSC was reduced to the one that yields to the high-handed and arbitrary practices of the U.S., forgetful of its mission to ensure the global peace and security and its duty prescribed in the UN Charter, and the one which has abandoned itself the principles of respect for sovereignty of other countries and non-interference in their internal affairs after dropping the principle of impartiality. The U.S. and the Japanese reactionaries, the sworn enemies of the Korean people, the south Korean puppet forces and all other dishonest forces should not forget even a moment that the powerful strike means of the DPRK to defend the dignity and sovereignty of the nation from the reckless moves of the aggressors keen to intrude into its inviolable territory, waters and sky and “bring down its social system” have been placed on alert to hit any target not only from their front and flanks but from any place in their rear.” (KCNA, “Underwater Test-Fire of Ballistic Missile Is Legitimate Exercise of Right to Self-Defense: DPRK,” May 20, 2015)

North Korea said it has the ability to miniaturize nuclear weapons, a key step toward building nuclear missiles. But the official U.S. response was skepticism. “Our assessment of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities has not changed,” National Security Council spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in a statement. “We do not think that they have that capacity.” “However, they are working on developing a number of long range missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, that could eventually threaten our allies and the homeland,” the U.S. spokesman added. “That is why the Administration is working to improve regional and homeland missile defenses and continuing to work with the other members of the six-party talks to bring North Korea back into compliance with its nonproliferation commitments.” But the North Korean assertion was unequivocal. “We have had the capability of miniaturizing nuclear warheads, as well as producing multiform weapons, for some time,” the North Korean military said in a statement carried by KCNA. “We can also guarantee the accuracy not only of short-to-mid-range but also long-range rocket launches, for which we have had the technology for a long time.” David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector, recently told CNN that Pyongyang could have 10 to 15 nuclear weapons at this point and that it could grow that amount by several weapons per year. Fashioning a nuclear device small enough to fit on the tip of a ballistic missile is difficult. North Korea signaled its intent to achieve that goal at the time of its most recent nuclear test, in 2013. It described the device it tested then as “a smaller and lighter” bomb than the ones it detonated in 2006 and 2009. Albright said he thinks Pyongyang can miniaturize a warhead for shorter missiles, but not yet for intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs. “There’s just too much testing they need to do, to make sure the re-entry vehicle — in essence the missile — is going to work,” he explained. “Also, the warhead is going to have to survive in a much more rugged environment, so that requires further testing too. I don’t think they’re there yet.” (Jethro Mullen, “North Korea Says It Can Miniaturize Nuclear Weapons,” CNN, May 20, 2015)

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that North Korea has called off his planned visit to an inter-Korean industrial complex in the North. Ban was scheduled to visit the North’s border city of Kaesong on Thursday to meet with South Korean businesses and North Korean workers inside the factory park. “They are reversing the decision for me to visit the Kaesong Industrial Complex. No explanation was given for this last-minute change,” Ban said during a speech at the Seoul Digital Forum. “This decision by Pyongyang is deeply regrettable.” (Yonhap, “N. Korea Cancels U.N. Chief’s Visit to Kaesong Complex,” May 20, 2015)

Cheong Wa Dae rebutted a series of remarks made by U.S. officials advocating the need to install America’s advanced missile defense system here. Presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook stressed that any decision on the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system will be made “independently.” “We will consider it, if the United States formally requests a possible deployment,” Min said. THAAD is a touchy issue for Seoul, not just because the need for it is growing in the face of North Korea’s missile threats but, more importantly, because any hint of embracing it could significantly damage relations with China, and give the impression that the country is at the beck and call of the United States. “No decision has been made,” he told reporters. The comments came hours after Frank Rose, U.S. assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification and compliance, said that the U.S. was considering the permanent stationing of a THAAD unit in South Korea. “Although we’re considering the permanent stationing of a THAAD unit on the Korean Peninsula, we have not made a final decision and had formal consultations with the Republic of Korea on a potential THAAD deployment,” Rose was quoted as saying during a seminar hosted by the Institute for Corean-American Studies (ICAS) in Washington. A government official told reporters that Rose apparently crossed the line. It was the first time that a U.S. senior official has mentioned the permanent stationing of a THAAD unit on the peninsula. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said May 18 that recent provocations by North Korea were “why we are talking about THAAD.” Kerry made the remarks during a meeting with U.S. service personnel stationed here during a two-day visit to Seoul. (Jun Ji-hye, “Seoul Dances away from THAAD Push,” Korea Times, May 20, 2015)


5/22/15:
North Korea has dropped a demand for a wage hike for its workers at the Kaesong factory park, South Korea said, paving the way for talks to resolve the latest dispute over the zone. An official of the South’s Unification Ministry said officials from the two countries and executives from South Korean companies operating in the industrial complex had agreed for the firms to pay back wages under the current terms. “Things will move on by current rules, and South and North Korea will meet again to talk about the minimum wage issue,” the official added. (Ju-min Park, “South Korea Says North Drops Demand for Wage Hike at Joint Factory Park,” Reuters, May 22, 2015)


5/24/15:
NDC Policy Department spokesman’s statement: “Five years have passed since matchless confrontational maniac and traitor Lee Myung Bak cooked up the “May 24 step”, pushing the north-south ties into a phase of confrontation. The “May 24 step” was the anti-nation, anti-peace and anti-reunification one for escalating the confrontation with the compatriots in the north, an unprecedented one in light of the circumstances of its fabrication and the course of its implementation. What matters is Park Geun Hye and her party’s argument that if it is to be lifted, there must be such “responsible step” as the north’s “admission”, “apology” and “assurances for preventing recurrence”. They went the lengths of blustering that their stand is immutable. …The “May 24 step” is an undisguised denial of the historic June 15 joint declaration, the achievement common to the nation, and its action program the October 4 declaration. Traitor Lee Myung Bak and his party branded the June 15 era of reunification as a “lost decade” and blustered they will bring a “decade of confrontation” to freeze the compatriots’ enthusiasm for reunification. This blustering was proved by the Cheonan warship sinking case and the “May 24 step” that ensued.

Five years have passed since then and the chief of the Chongwadae has also changed. But the May 24 step remains a cancer-like entity, blocking the improved relations between the north and the south, spoiling the national concord and unity and escalating the confrontation and tension. This clearly shows that Park Geun Hye and her party are just as same as Lee Myung Bak. The “May 24 step” is a measure for confrontation that was fabricated under the pretext of the sinking of warship “Cheonan.” The step based on fabrication cannot but be a measure for confrontation. Availing ourselves of this opportunity, we’d like to urge with courtesy Park and her party as follows: If they have any ground with which they can prove the DPRK’s responsibility for the sinking case, they should respond to its demand to jointly look into the case in the eyes of the whole nation and the world. There would be no excuse whatsoever for them to decline our demand, if they are not afraid. The investigation into the truth will be easier as the hull of Cheonan warship which had been broken into two parts was salvaged and placed on the land. We still keep a powerful inspection group of the DPRK NDC ready to get down to joint investigation into the case. If Park and her party turn down this just demand of the DPRK, that will only be their admission of the case as their own farce. The “May 24 step” should, therefore, be naturally lifted. 3. The ill-famed “May 24 step” is a product of political intrigues which should be thrown into a dumping ground of history. The step is a product of political swindles against the nation, reunification and peace which no one wants, and the biggest trouble of all the Koreans. Park Geun Hye and her party should admit before the whole nation the crimes against fellow countrymen they committed by clinging to the “May 24 step” and throw it away into a dumping ground of history. They talk nonsense such as “dialogue first and lift of the step next”, only revealing their cynical ploy to push the the north-south dialogue to another theatre of confrontation. But this is just a waste of time. The people from all walks of life in south Korea should rise up as one in the nationwide struggle to have the “May 24 step” lifted. The great turn and avenue to the improvement of the north-south relations depend on the lifting of the step.” (KCNA, “DPRK NDC Policy Department Clarifies Its Stand on Ill-Famed ‘May 24 Step’ of S. Korea,” May 24, 2015)

CPRK spokesman’s statement: “A spokesman for the Policy Department of the National Defense Commission of the DPRK in a statement “clarified its principled stand as regards the U.S. and its allies’ reckless action of taking issue with the DPRK’s successful test-fire of ballistic missile from a strategic submarine. As soon as this statement was reported, the south Korean puppet group is raising hue and cry over a “serious threat” and “a halt to provocations” almost every day. It has gone the lengths of sending what it called “message” to the UN Security Council. Even Park Geun Hye is taking the lead in inciting anti-DPRK confrontation racket while vociferating about “counteraction against unpredictable event” and “violation of UN resolution.”In the meantime, puppet military gangsters are letting loose a string of invectives about “scorched earth operations” and “containment” during their visits to forefront areas, the hottest spots, for escalating tensions. They are openly revealing an attempt to introduce THAAD into south Korea from the U.S., the plan they dared not raise for fear of public opinion at home and abroad. …The provocative act of the puppet group echoing the reckless remarks of the U.S. a last-ditch effort of the pro-U.S. lackeys, taken aback by the leap forward made by the DPRK in bolstering up its military muscle. The south Korean puppet group, kowtowing to its American master, is a horde of despicable traitors who have sold off the dignity and interests of the nation and increased the tension and danger of a war on the Korean peninsula as a shock brigade in the moves to stifle the DPRK. It has neither elementary face nor qualifications to say this or that about the DPRK’s inviolable nuclear deterrence for self-defense. The DPRK’s nuclear force for self-defense can never be an object of accusation as it is means of justice for protecting the dignity and sovereignty of the nation. The puppet group should know at least that the treasured nuclear sword of the DPRK can never be dismantled no matter how desperately the group decries. The nuclear deterrence of the DPRK has not posed any threat to anybody but has performed the most just and responsible mission to check the U.S. wild ambition for hegemony on the forefront and preserve regional peace and stability. The puppet group is slandering the DPRK’s measure to bolster up its military capability and desperately talking about “sanctions” by abusing even the name of the international community in a bid to cover up its despicable nature of straining the situation in the region including the Korean peninsula but no force can bar the DPRK from exercising its legitimate right to self-defense. The south Korean puppet group would be well advised to stop acting recklessly, pondering over the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by its futile action of taking issue with the DPRK’s measure to bolster up its nuclear deterrence of justice.” (KCNA, “S. Korean Puppet Group Accused of Slandering DPRK’s Measure to Bolster up Nuclear Deterrent,” May 24, 2015)

Seoul said it is willing to discuss the issue of its sanctions on North Korea if Pyongyang agrees to resume long-stalled inter-Korean talks. Pyongyang has asked Seoul to lift the sanctions before any inter-Korean dialogue, but the South maintains that the North should first take “responsible action” for the sinking of the Cheonan. “South Korea is open to discussing various issues including the sanctions if the North responds to our proposal for inter-Korean talks,” the Ministry of Unification said in a statement. (Korea Herald, “Seoul Conditionally Willing to Discuss Sanctions on N.K.,” May 24, 2015)

A group of 30 female peace activists, including the feminist leader Gloria Steinem and two Nobel Peace Prize laureates, crossed the demilitarized zone from North Korea to South Korea, calling for an end to the Korean War, whose unresolved hostility has been symbolized by the heavily armed border for six decades. It was rare for the two rival Korean governments to agree to allow a group of peace activists to pass through the border area, known as the DMZ. Yet some of the symbolism the activists had hoped to generate with their Women Cross DMZ campaign was lost when South Korea denied them permission to walk through Panmunjom. Instead, the women, who had traveled from Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, were detoured to a checkpoint southwest of Panmunjom. There, convoys of South Korean trucks go to and from a joint industrial park in the North Korean town of Kaesong. The women, carrying banners, were again barred from walking across the border, and had to cross by bus. Still, they considered the endeavor a success. “We have accomplished what no one said can be done, which is to be a trip for peace, for reconciliation, for human rights and a trip to which both governments agreed,” Steinem told the South Korean news media. “We were able to be citizen diplomats.” The women — including the Nobel Peace laureates Mairead Maguire from Northern Ireland and Leymah Gbowee from Liberia — arrived in Pyongyang on May 19 for the march, which they hoped would highlight the need to build peace and set the stage for Korean reunification by formally ending the war with a permanent peace treaty. Just two days before the women’s arrival in Pyongyang, the North’s state-run media hurled one of its harshest — and most sexist — screeds against President Park Geun-hye of South Korea, calling her “a fork-tongued viper” and one “not worth calling a woman” because “she has never given birth to a baby.” Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry said the North Korean government, led by Kim Jong-un, was “one of the most egregious examples of reckless disregard for human rights.” Some rights activists in the United States and South Korea opposed the women’s trip, saying that it would be used as propaganda by North Korea. They urged the peace activists to call on the North to dismantle political prison camps and end human rights abuses. When the activists marched in Pyongyang on Saturday, North Korean women in colorful traditional dresses lined a boulevard waving red and pink paper flowers, according to North Korean television footage. One of the roadside signs said “Let us reunify the divided country as soon as possible!” On the other side of the border, hundreds of South Korean activists welcomed the women who crossed into the South Korean city of Paju, north of Seoul. Not far away, however, hundreds of conservative South Koreans, including defectors from the North, also rallied, accusing the activists of “flattering Kim Jong-un” and promoting a “fake peace.” “Go back to the North!” they chanted. The conservative protesters cited reports in the state-run North Korean news media that quoted some of the visitors as praising North Korean leaders. In its reports about the activists’ meetings with North Korean women in Pyongyang, the North’s Korean Central News Agency also cited “speakers” who it said called the United States “a kingdom of terrorism and a kingpin of human rights abuses.” The conservatives said those reports proved that the activists had been used as propaganda tools by the North. But organizers of the trip said that none of the visiting women had uttered any of the remarks that were reported in the North Korean media. The organizers stressed that their trip had been aimed at easing the mistrust and hostility that not only divided the two Koreas but also people in the South. Several South Korean activists have in the past defied the ban on visiting North Korea without government permission and traveled to Pyongyang to promote reconciliation. When they returned home to face arrest, North Korea gave them a rousing send-off at Panmunjom. South Korean officials did not want Ms. Steinem and her party to cross Panmunjom partly because they did not want North Korea to use the trip for similar propaganda. (Choe Sang-hun, “Female Activists Call for Formal Peace between Koreas,” New York Times, May 25, 2015, p. A-8) Steinem, a key figure in the women’s rights movement in the United States for decades, decided to join the walk after being approached by organizer Christine Ahn, a Korean-American peace activist. She said she is old enough to remember the 1950-53 Korean War, and she believes that women can play an important role in pushing governments to take more effective action to bring peace. She said she also feels strongly that efforts by Washington and its allies to isolate Pyongyang have failed. “The example of the isolation of the Soviet Union or other examples of isolation haven’t worked very well in my experience,” she said. “Isolating North Korea clearly hasn’t worked. I think we have to go ahead with the idea of first do no harm. We haven’t done any harm, and it might turn out to be a good thing.” Steinem quickly added, however, that coming to North Korea does not mean she is endorsing Pyongyang’s policies or ignoring its domestic human rights record. “I don’t think that anybody is saying that because Gloria Steinem is coming, North Korea is fine,” she said. “Everybody knows what the problems are. In some situations, I suppose that might be a danger. But I don’t see it here and I really don’t think we would have gotten all the permissions that we needed if other people saw that danger.” The plan to walk across the DMZ has been looked on very differently in the North and South. On May21, North Korea’s state media reported on a peace symposium held by the women in Pyongyang with representatives of North Korean women’s groups, saying they branded the U.S. “a kingdom of terrorism and a kingpin of human rights abuses.” Yonhap, meanwhile, picking up on the North Korean reports, quoted academics in the South saying the group’s activities would not help efforts to pressure the North to give up its nuclear weapons program or improve its human rights record. “Those words were never uttered,” Ahn, the walk organizer, told AP. “We spoke about the impact of militarism around the world, including in Liberia, Colombia, Japan, Northern Ireland as well as the United States. We are operating in an environment where multiple sides will take our words out of context to advance their political agendas.” Steinem dismissed suggestions the group, which also includes two Nobel Peace Prize winners, was deliberately massaging its message to please their North Korean hosts. “I haven’t had to censor myself at all. We’ve made it a point not to meet with high officials or to play basketball with high officials,” she said, referring to former NBA star Dennis Rodman’s trip to Pyongyang, when he played basketball and sang happy birthday to leader Kim Jong-un. “Obviously, there’s certain things I won’t do.” She said she refused to bow or stand before statues of the leaders and be photographed, which is often expected of foreign visitors. “At the airport, it’s an immediate surprise that you are not allowed to bring books in, or DVDs, and that you have to turn in your cellphone and get a different chip in your cellphone,” she said. “This is not good … The balance between the individual and the community is supposed to be even. And it is out of balance.” But, while she sees change in North Korea as a long process, she said she believes the walk across the DMZ is a significant step forward. “We are being met by a couple of thousand women on the other side and a Catholic priest representing the Vatican. That’s the first time I’ve ever been received by the Vatican,” she quipped. “It’s amazing. It’s really, really amazing.” (Eric Talmadge, “Steinem Says Isolating N. Korea Not Working,” Associate Press, May 23, 2015)


5/25?/15:
Japan and North Korea held informal talks in Beijing in late May over Pyongyang’s reinvestigation into Japanese abductees and others, according to sources. Japanese diplomatic authorities are believed to have urged their North Korean counterparts to promptly submit a report on the results of their re-investigation into the fate of kidnap victims and other Japanese nationals covered by the probe. A year earlier, Japan and North Korea reportedly agreed that the probe would likely be concluded as early as July this year. According to sources, the unofficial talks took place while Ihara Junich, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, was visiting Beijing from May 24 to 26. Ihara was there to meet such Chinese officials as Wu Dawei, special representative of the Chinese government on Korean Peninsula Affairs. Japan-North Korea talks have failed to produce notable progress on issues related to the reinvestigation. Sources said a timetable for the two countries to resume official talks regarding the probe remains unknown. In April, Pyongyang told Tokyo that holding government-to-government talks was impossible, an angry response to Japanese police searching the home of Ho Jong Man, chairman of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), in connection with a case involving illegally imported North Korean matsutake mushrooms. Observers have said the talks in May mean North Korea maintained channels for negotiation with Japan despite the search of the Chongryon chief’s house. (Yomiuri Shimbun, “Japan, N. Korea Held Informal Talks on Abductees,” June 7, 2015)


5/26/15:
North Korea is building “several” military bunkers on a border island in the skirmish-prone West Sea that pose a “grave threat” to South Korea, Seoul’s Defense Ministry said. The facilities on Gal Island, some 2.5 kilometers north of the Northern Limit Line, the de-facto maritime frontier, are expected to house 122-millimeter multiple rocket launchers or guard posts to monitor the movement of South Korean marines and patrol vessels. With a range of 20 kilometers, the weapons were mobilized when Pyongyang bombarded Yeonpyeong Island in November 2010 ― merely 4.5 kilometers away from Gal Island ― killing two Marines and two residents while injuring more than a dozen. The communist country embarked on excavation activities in the area in March and has since constructed at least five camps, news reports suggested, citing unnamed military authorities here. “The North Korean military is establishing several covered bunkers on Gal Island, north of Yeonpyeong Island in the West Sea,” ministry spokesperson Kim Min-seok said at a regular news briefing. “Given Gal Island’s geographic location and the distance between the NLL and Yeonpyeong Island, the activities present a grave threat to our military’s operations. We are intensively monitoring any deployment of firearms by the North Korean military.” If the regime presses ahead to station an artillery battery, Gal Island will be its nearest base to attack the South Korean border islands, which could also make it easier to target warships sailing nearby. The closest existing base is Jangjae Island, around 7 kilometers away from Yeonpyeong Island. The South Korean military has deployed Spike missiles which have a range of about 20 kilometers on Yeonpyeong and Baengnyeong Islands to help defend the region. (Shin Hyon-hee, “N.K. Building Military Bunkers on Border Island,” Korea Herald, May 26, 2015)

Jeffrey Lewis: “First, let’s be clear about what happened. China recently equipped some of its giant DF-5 intercontinental-range ballistic missiles to carry three or four warheads. In peacetime, those missiles are unfueled and the warheads are stored tens of miles away. So “equipped” apparently means each missile has a new post-boost vehicle, sometimes called a “bus,” that releases each warhead at its intended target. …I strongly suspect this is a decision driven by technology, not strategy. That said, I generally think nuclear strategy — in both the United States and China — serves as a post-hoc rationalization of decisions taken for other reasons. (More than a decade in Washington made Jeffrey a cynical bastard.) U.S. officials have long expected China to place multiple warheads on the DF-5. My best guess is that the decision to put multiple warheads is about replacing the vintage 1970s warhead on the DF-5 with something more contemporary. This decision was probably made a long time ago, and perhaps it has simply taken Beijing a while to get around to it. Technical explanations can be a little boring — guess why people opt for the strategic ones? — but let me try. China has a fairly small arsenal of nuclear-armed ballistic weapons, involving two “series” of missiles: one liquid-fueled and solid-fueled. Starting in the early 1960s, China developed the Dongfeng (DF) series of liquid-fueled ballistic missiles — the DF-3, DF-3, DF-4, and DF-5. Liquid fuel is very energetic (which means the missile can fly really far) but it is also super corrosive, thus one can only fuel such a missile right before launch. The drawback is obvious: Imagine stopping to gas up your car while the United States Air Force is doing its utmost to kill you. …Starting in the mid-1980s, China began developing a series of solid-fueled missiles to replace the liquid-fueled ones — the DF-21, DF-31, DF-31A and, in due course, the DF-41. The upside to solid-fuel is that it’s more stable and manufactured into the missile, making it easily transportable. The downside is that the missile it is harder to make and the fuel isn’t as powerful. China has still not completely replaced the first series of liquid-fueled missiles with the second series of solid-fueled ones. China’s liquid-fueled DF-5 is the only missile that can reach all of the United States — and it has 18 of these bad boys. It deployed most of the first batch in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and then replaced them with a more modern variant in the mid-2000s. China has an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in the second series, the DF-31A, that can reach targets across much of the United States, but I have some questions about just how much of the United States. Not surprisingly, China is developing something new: a missile designated the DF-41, which should remove any doubts about target coverage. The number of DF-31A missiles is small, too — not much more than 15 according to a recent assessment. If we add up the DF-4s and DF-31s that could threaten Alaska and Hawaii, that’s 50-60 ICBMs, each with one warhead. At least that was the case. Each of these missiles had only one warhead because China’s nuclear warheads were really, really big. Beijing developed the DF-5’s original warhead in the 1970s and 1980s, when China was impoverished. The warhead for the DF-31 was developed during the early 1990s and is lighter — an estimated 470 kilograms — but still big and heavy enough that the DF-31 and DF-31A could carry just one apiece.The U.S. intelligence community has long asked what would happen if China put the smaller DF-31 warhead on the giant DF-5. Leaked U.S. estimates suggest that it could accommodate 3 or 4 such warheads. So why hasn’t China put multiple warheads on the DF-5? China would surely prefer to retire the older DF-5 warhead design in favor of a more modern design. And using the newer, smaller warhead leaves tons of room. Literally tons. The DF-5 has between 3,000 and 3,200 kilograms of “throw weight” (that’s how much stuff it can heave across the globe). Even if about half the payload goes to the post-boost vehicle, there’s enough oomph left over for three or four 500 kg warheads. What else would one do with all that space? Add some penetration aids (decoys and so forth) to defeat missile defenses? Sure, but that’s a couple hundred kilograms max. Fill it with ballast for stability? Or maybe those little balls from Panda Pop? Here we come to an important observation about the risks of inferring intentions from capabilities. We act as if there is something morally compromised about placing multiple warheads on missiles. (Those sneaky Chinese!) Sorry, but there isn’t. The Russians do it. U.S. Strategic Command was pushing to keep doing it as late as 2007. And the United States and Russia, along with France and Britain, all have multiple warheads on submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Yes, land-based MIRVs are an attractive target for a preemptive strike, which makes them destabilizing — but how destabilizing depends on the context. And at the moment, I have bigger worries about whether U.S. and Chinese nuclear forces will be stable in crisis. Chinese officials don’t even use the phrase “minimum deterrence,” which American experts take to mean a small force that exists only to deter nuclear attacks. The Chinese use the phrase “lean and effective.” That is a lot like minimum deterrence … but minimum deterrence is our term, not theirs. And it doesn’t make any sense to try to infer Chinese intentions using U.S. strategic concepts. …The Chinese nuclear posture, instead, has been driven by an enthusiasm for reaching technological milestones, not big deployments. American experts sometimes describe the missiles in China’s first series– the DF-2 through DF-5 — in terms of their range. China could first hit U.S. bases in the Philippines, then the Japanese island of Okinawa, then Guam, and so on. But that’s not how the Chinese describe these missiles. An official history of China’s missile program, China Today: Defense Science and Technology, describes its missiles in terms of its technological accomplishment on the path toward the ultimate accomplishment — an ICBM. The DF-2 was the first indigenously produced missile, the DF-3 the first cluster of engines, the DF-4 the first use of missile stages (one engine stacked atop another), culminating in the 1980s in the DF-5 — a large, powerful ICBM. These two approaches — dwelling on notional strategic details vs. ticking off concrete accomplishments — are really just different ways of answering the questions that confronts every policymaker when it comes to The Bomb. Have I done enough? Will more be better? When answering these questions, policymakers can only roughly approximate rationality. In the United States, policymakers do calculations that mimic a rational choice, with tradeoffs and so on. But we can’t get inside the mind of a foreign leader to determine what deters him or her, so our calculations would be more accurately described as exercises in self-assurance: Would I be deterred, if I were in my enemy’s shoes? In a previous column, I’ve argued that the origins of overkill lay in the nearly impossible task of assuring ourselves that we have attended to every detail possible. I still can’t think of a better explanation for how the United States found itself at the height of the Cold War with 30,000 nuclear weapons, airborne alerts, and targeting plans that ended up putting 69 warheads on one lousy target. Chinese policymakers appear to assure themselves by ticking off technological achievements. ICBM? Check. Thermonuclear warhead? Check. Solid-fueled, mobile missile? Check. And now: MIRVs? Check. That’s sort of crazy in its own way, although coming from the country whose nuclear posture inspired Dr. Strangelove, maybe I won’t throw stones. This is why I don’t think of China’s decisions as being driven primarily by U.S. missile defense efforts — that’s an American sort of calculation. The Chinese approach always could be rationalized this way after the fact, but it seems different at its core. From this perspective, there is no obvious reason for a Chinese leader to reject multiple warheads as inconsistent with a lean and effective force. Each missile that survives a sneak attack — and there probably won’t be many of them — represents a greater danger to the attacker. Yes, we can observe that such a posture might be destabilizing, but that requires we sit down to discuss strategic stability — something that isn’t really happening at the moment, at least formally and in the kind of detail that one would expect, given the importance of the U.S.-China strategic relationship. I’ve long argued that U.S. and Chinese policymakers need to find a way to make this dialogue successful. …My particularly hobby-horse, though, is less important than advancing our dialogue, if we don’t want to have it in the form of an expensive and dangerous competition in arms. I suspect we’ll see a lot more changes to China’s nuclear posture in the years to come. Beijing is on the verge of deploying ballistic missile submarines capable of carrying nuclear-armed missiles, if it hasn’t already. China seems to be flight-testing a new ICBM and a hypersonic glide vehicle (though not always successfully). And there are interesting discussions in China about launch-on-warning and other operational practices. Each and every modification in China’s nuclear posture will trigger another round of hand-wringing about what this means. Of course, it is possible the Chinese don’t know what it means any more than we do. It wouldn’t be the first time a nuclear power undertook an open-ended nuclear modernization without any clear sense of the final destination. If Chinese policymakers are unthinkingly ticking off technological achievements — just as we Americans unthinkingly chase new missile defense and conventional strike capabilities — then the two parties could stumble into an arms race without really choosing to do so. That seems like what we should be discussing.” (Jeffrey Lewis, “Great, Now China’s Got Multiple Nuclear Warhead Missiles?” Foreign Policy, May 26, 2015)


5/27/15:
The top nuclear envoys of the United States, South Korea and Japan agreed to ratchet up pressure on North Korea, including a more effective and creative enforcement of sanctions on the impoverished country. The three allies also said that their efforts to curtail North Korea’s nuclear weapons ambitions would now include increasing pressure on North Korea to improve its human rights record — a highly delicate topic that they have so far kept separate from their nuclear negotiations with the North. “We agreed on the importance of enhancing pressure and sanctions on North Korea even as we keep all diplomatic options on the table and open,” said Sung Kim, Washington’s top representative to the six-nation talks aimed at negotiating an end to the North Korean nuclear weapons program. “We also agreed on the importance of working with the international community to address the grave human rights situation in North Korea,” Mr. Kim told reporters in Seoul as he emerged from a meeting with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts, Hwang Joon-kook and Ihara Junichi. Kim’s trilateral meeting in Seoul followed the test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile by North Korea this month and its subsequent claim that it had been building nuclear warheads small enough to be mounted on a long-range missile. Ihara said that the allies shared a “sense of urgency” over what Hwang later called the “seriousness in the advancement of North Korea’s nuclear capability.” Kim and Hwang were to meet with Beijing’s top nuclear negotiator, Wu Dawei, in the Chinese capital later this week to urge China, North Korea’s largest trading partner, to use its economic leverage to curb its behavior. Officials here said that other options under discussion included tightening inspections of cargo traveling in and out of North Korea and squeezing the source of hard currency North Korea earns through the tens of thousands of workers it sends to factories, building sites, logging camps and other work sites in China, Russia and countries in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa. (Choe Sang-hun, “World Briefing | Asia; North Korea: U.S. and Two Asian Allies to Raise Pressure over Nuclear Arms,” New York Times, May 28, 2015, p. A-10) “In order to deal with it, (we) agreed to put stronger pressure (on Pyongyang) and make active efforts for dialogue,” Hwang Joon-kook, Seoul’s senior diplomat in charge of North Korea affairs, told reporters. He said the envoys agreed to the “seriousness in advancement in North Korea’s nuclear capability.” He also warned the North that it will face more international pressure if it stays on the current course. “North Korea’s diplomatic and economic isolation will deepen,” he said. (Lee Chi-dong and Lee Haye-ah, “Regional Powers Agree to Increase Pressure on North Korea,” Yonhap, May 27, 2015) The United States extended another offer early this month to hold talks with North Korea, but the communist North has not yet responded to the proposal, diplomatic sources said May 31. The offer was made via the North‘s mission to the United Nations before the top nuclear envoys of South Korea, the U.S. and Japan held a trilateral meeting in Seoul to discuss how to deal with Pyongyang, the sources said. The North’s failure to respond to the dialogue proposal led to the three countries agreeing to ratchet up pressure and sanctions on Pyongyang when their chief nuclear envoys held the three-way talks in Seoul last week, the sources said. It was not the first time this year the North has rejected a U.S. dialogue proposal. Meanwhile, North Korea strongly voiced its opposition to the U.N. Security Council’s handling of recent submarine-launched ballistic missile test, saying that it would prove itself to be a “political tool” of the United States if it were to take issue with Pyongyang while ignoring joint military exercises between South Korea and the U.S. The North’s ambassador to the U.N., Ja Song-nam, made the claim in a letter sent to the Security Council president last week, calling the drills “real nuclear war games of aggression” aimed at “occupying Pyongyang” to remove the North‘s leadership. “The recent underwater test-fire by the DPRK of a ballistic missile from a strategic submarine is a legitimate measure of a sovereign state to bolster up its self-defense capability against the provocative military maneuvers of the United States,” the envoy said in the letter, referring to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “The council will be proved to be a political tool of the high-handed and arbitrary practice of one permanent member” if it only takes issue with the submarine missile launch while ignoring the military exercises, he said. Ja demanded the council convene an emergency meeting on the joint exercises. (Korea Herald, “North Korea Mum on Fresh U.S. Dialogue Offer: Sources,” June 1, 2015)

Sung Kim: “Q: Do you have any plan to have a dialogue with North Korea counterparts anywhere? KIM: This time? Q: This time or in the near future? KIM: There are no plans to meet with the North Koreans. But I think they understand that we are willing to engage them in a serious and sincere discussion about the nuclear issue. We have made that point very clear to them publicly, but also privately through the New York channel. Q: Did the three parties today agree on how you are going to enhance pressure on North Korea? KIM: We agreed that we should be exploring all opportunities to increase pressure, not only in terms of better, stronger implementation of existing sanctions, but also looking at all other opportunities and avenues to increase pressure. Q: Could the other options include any more UN sanctions on North Korea [inaudible]? KIM: Well, we don’t have any specific measures to announce today. But I think what’s clear is we agree that it’s important to enhance pressure on North Korea. As you know, they have rejected all of our sincere, serious, diplomatic outreach efforts so in a sense they have given us no choice but to cooperate on enhancing pressure on North Korea.” (DoS, Special Representative for North Korea Policy Sung Kim, Remarks to Reporters at the Lotte Hotel, Seoul, May 27, 2015)


5/28/15:
Negotiators and representatives from five of the six countries involved in the stalled talks on North Korea’s nuclear programs held an informal meeting in Tokyo on Thursday in the absence of Pyongyang, a Japanese diplomatic source said, in a move aimed at stepping up pressure against the North. But the five nations failed to agree on tightened sanctions due to opposition by China and Russia, the source said. (Kyodo, “5 Nations Meet Informally in 6-Way Framework without N. Korea,” May 28, 2015)


5/29/15:
Sung Kim: “Q: What’s the Chinese response to the [inaudible] among South Korea and China, and Korea and Japan, to increase pressure on North Korea? KIM: The Chinese agreed that pressure has to be an important part of our overall approach on North Korea. They are working with us to implement UN Security Council resolutions to the fullest. And I expect that cooperation to continue. Q: Last time you came here, I remember you saying, you were talking about the possibility of going to North Korea yourself to have bilateral talks. How has the mood changed since then? Are they still interested in having bilateral talks? KIM: It appears the North Koreans are not interested in any serious diplomacy at the moment. In fact, they have rejected all of our sincere diplomatic outreach efforts to engage in some serious discussions about the nuclear issue. They have rejected our suggestions. They have rejected South Korea’s efforts to initiate inter-Korean dialogue. Of course, they did not go to Moscow, as some people had anticipated. So, I just don’t get the sense that North Koreans right now are interested in any meaningful discussions. …Q: Are you frustrated that North Korea’s economy seems to be doing fairly well under sanctions. Does that cause frustration for you and other parties? KIM: I’m not sure if we can really describe the North Korean economy as doing well. Our sense is that North Korean people are continuing to suffer, and that the economy is not growing. And it’s time for the North Korean leadership to focus on economic reform efforts rather than pursuing dangerous capabilities. Q: How amenable is China to a possible new round of sanctions? KIM: As I said before, the Chinese agree that pressure and sanctions should be a part of our overall approach on North Korea. We have seen over the past couple of years stronger enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions by the Chinese authorities. And I expect that effort to continue. … Q: Given the recent news of purges in the North, are you concerned that the political situation has gotten more unstable and is getting more and more dangerous? KIM: Information regarding the internal dynamics in North Korea is still somewhat uncertain, but we are not seeing any concrete signs of instability. What we would urge the regime to do is to focus on their commitments and obligations, and to work with the international community, particularly with the five parties, towards the goal of denuclearization. (Special Representative for North Korea Policy Sung Kim, Remarks to Reporters at the Westin Chaoyang Hotel, Beijing, May 29, 2015)

Fresh satellite images show substantial new construction at North Korea’s space rocket launch site, mirroring leader Kim Jong-Un’s recent vow to launch more satellites in defiance of UN resolutions, the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said. Using satellite analysis, USKI had reported last year a substantial upgrade at Sohae — allowing it to handle rockets up to 50 metres (165 feet) in length — almost 70 percent longer than the Unha-3. In its latest assessment of images taken in mid-May, the institute noted further modifications, including construction of a new support building next to the Unha-3 launch pad and a rail mobile platform between the two. While the precise purpose of the building was not immediately clear, institute analyst Tim Brown said it could be a facility for assembling a launch vehicle and then rolling it to the launch pad. There has been speculation that the North might launch a long-range rocket to mark the 70th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party in October — a schedule Brown labelled “difficult although not impossible.” The ongoing upgrade at Sohae represents a “significant” investment, Brown said, and is “another indicator … that the North is determined to pursue its space program.” (AFP, “Fresh Upgrades at N. Korea Rocket Site: U.S. Think Tank,” May 29, 2015)

South Korea and the United States have kicked off a joint committee to look into the incident involving a live anthrax sample that was mistakenly sent to a lab at an American military base at Osan, South Korea and nine states from a military laboratory in Utah the U.S., a diplomatic source said. U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said yesterday that 22 personnel may have come in contact with a live anthrax sample, but none have shown signs of infection. “Given the incident’s seriousness and gravity, the South Korean and U.S. militaries have started to run the SOFA joint committee for close cooperation,” the source said. The two sides are in consultations on an array of issues such as determining the incident’s cause and follow-up measures, the source added. The USFK did not inform the South Korean government of the arrival of the anthrax sample in advance as it believed the sample contained an inactive bacterium which does not pose any health threat, according to a government official. (Yonhap, “Seoul, Washington Kick off Joint committee over Anthrax Mishap,” May 29, 2015)

A precision digital weapon reportedly created by the US and Israel to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program had a fraternal twin that was designed to attack North Korea’s nuclear program as well, according to a new report. The second weapon was crafted at the same time Stuxnet was created and was designed to activate once it encountered Korean-language settings on machines with the right configuration, according to Reuters. But the operation ultimately failed because the attackers were unable to get the weapon onto machines that were running Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. WIRED reported back in 2010 that such an operation against North Korea would be possible in light of the fact that some of the equipment used by the North Koreans to control their centrifuges—the devices used to turn uranium hexafluoride gas into nuclear-bomb-ready fuel—appeared to have come from the same firms that outfitted the Iranian nuclear program. “The computer-control equipment North Korea got was the same Iran got,” David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security and a long-time watcher of both nuclear programs, told WIRED at the time. Albright published a study back then noting that the North Korean control system “is dual use, also used by the petrochemical industry, but was the same as those acquired by Iran to run its centrifuges.” Iran uses industrial control systems made by the German firm Siemens to control and monitor the operation of its centrifuges. Stuxnet is believed to have been created sometime in 2006 when President Bush’s advisers first floated the idea to him of attacking Iran’s program with a digital weapon to avoid bombing it through an airstrike. The first version of Stuxnet was likely unleashed on systems in Iran in 2007—a copy of this version of Stuxnet appeared in the wild in November 2007. A later version of Stuxnet was unleashed on Iran in June 2009 and again in March and April 2010. Stuxnet would infect any computer using the Windows operating system but would only unleash its payload on systems that had a specific configuration. That configuration included Siemens Step 7 or Siemens WinCC software and Siemens S7-315 and S7-417 programmable logic controllers. The programmable logic controllers are small computers that control the speed at which the centrifuges spin as well as valves through which the uranium hexaflouride gas flows into and out of the centrifuges. The Step7 software is used to program the PLCs, while the WinCC software is used to monitor the PLCs and centrifuges to ensure that they’re operating correctly. Once Stuxnet found a system with Step 7 or WinCC installed it would inject its malicious code into the PLCs that were connected to these machines and sabotage the operation in two ways—by either causing the centrifuges to speed up and slow down or by closing exit valves on the centrifuges, causing the gas to build up inside the centrifuges. The targeted machines in Iran, like those in North Korea, are not connected to the internet. So the attackers had to devise ways to get the weapon onto those air-gapped machines. They did so by infecting five Iranian companies that are in the business of installing Siemens and other brands of industrial control systems at Natanz and other facilities throughout Iran. The attackers targeted these companies with the hope that contractors working at Natanz would carry the weapon into the well-guarded facility. While the plan worked beautifully in Iran, it ultimately hit a snafu against North Korea where the nuclear program is even more tightly controlled than Iran’s and where few computers—belonging to contractors or anyone else—are online and accessible via the internet. As WIRED reported in 2010, “someone would have to infiltrate the Hermit Kingdom’s most sensitive sites and introduce the worm into the command systems, a hard bargain to say the least. In other words, don’t go thinking the United States or an ally could magically infect North Korea with Stuxnet. But if more information emerges about the North’s command systems, that might provide fodder for a copycat worm—provided someone could introduce it into Yongbyon.” (Kim Zetter, “The U.S. Tried to Stuxnet North Korea’s Nuclear Program,” Wired, May 29, 2015)


5/30/15:
DPRK FoMin spokesman’s statement: “The U.S., in the recent three-party consultation with Japan and south Korea, attempted to distort the truth and mislead public opinion as if they wanted to have dialogue, but the DPRK refused. It is a well-known fact that the DPRK had long called for the resumption of dialogue without preconditions, making sincere efforts for it, but the U.S. prevented it, raising unreasonable “preconditions.” …As the DPRK has consistently clarified, its military capabilities for self-defense based on nuclear force are neither means for threatening anyone nor a bargaining chip for something. The DPRK’s nuclear weapons serve as self-defensive deterrent to cope with the constant nuclear threat and military invasion from the U.S. and as a force of justice to decisively repel the enemy’s invasion and deal a merciless retaliation in case a war breaks out. As been already proved in history, the only way to prevent a war between the DPRK and the U.S., which lack even elementary trust in each other and have long stood in mistrust and hostility only, is for the former to bolster up its defense capabilities so as to ensure balance of forces. It is a grave provocation to criticize as “provocative” any legitimate self-defensive step taken by a small country to protect itself from the ringleader of aggression and war. The U.S. should clearly know, though belatedly, that the failure of its DPRK policy is due to its fundamentally wrong viewpoint on the DPRK. It would dislike for no ground and criticize all of what the DPRK does. Such wrong viewpoint spoiled the DPRK-U.S. relations and the denuclearization on the Korean peninsula at last, with the bitter result of lifting an axe to drop it on one’s own foot. If the U.S. fails to draw a lesson any longer, the aftermath will be more tragic.” (KCNA, “U.S. Criticized for Attempt to Shift Blame for Ruptured DPRK-U.S. Talks, May 30, 2015)


5/31/15:
South and North Korea have agreed on a joint project to excavate an ancient palace site despite continued inter-Korean military tensions, the Unification Ministry said. The ministry has approved the plans by related historians and officials to visit the North’s border town of Kaesong for the six-month project to excavate the site of Manwoldae, a Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) palace. Their activity will be financed by276 million won (US$248,000) from the South-North Cooperation Fund. A group of 11 members of a related historians’ association will travel to Kaesong tomorrow, followed by more trips by about 70 others over the coming six months. Some officials from the Cultural Heritage Administration will also join the program. “Some will make day-long visits, while others will stay at the Kaesong Industrial Complex for the joint work with the North Koreans,” a ministry official said. “It’s unusual (for the two sides) to agree on a six-month period for a joint archaeological survey.” He added that the excavation of Manwoldae, registered as a world cultural heritage in 2013, is a project cared about by late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. The Manwoldae project began in 2007, but suffered setbacks amid drawn-out stand-offs between the two Koreas. (Yonhap, “Koreas Set for 6-Month Historical Project,” May 31, 2015)

Defense Minister Nakatani Gen and his South Korean counterpart, Han Min-koo, have held their first talks in four years and agreed to continue a dialogue to improve strained relations. “It is extremely meaningful” to resume the discussions, Nakatani said at the outset of the meeting with Han, adding “Japan wants to make efforts” through the occasion to improve bilateral ties. In their talks in Singapore, held on the fringes of the annual Asia Security Summit conference, also known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, Nakatani explained the security bills that the government of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is pushing to pass and the revisions to the Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines, Foreign Ministry officials said. The bills, if passed, would remove geographical restrictions on where the Self-Defense Forces can operate, and under certain conditions allow Japanese forces to defend the U.S. and other allied militaries via collective self-defense, possibly without Diet approval. The revised guidelines reflect the changes contained in the legislation. The two ministers also agreed to resume exchanges between the SDF and South Korean military forces. The meeting was held at Tokyo’s request. (Kyodo, Jiji, “Japanese, South Korean Defense Chiefs Hold First Talks in Four Years,” Japan Times, May 31, 2015)

Senior South Korean and North Korean officials will attend an international railway meeting this week, raising hopes of a breakthrough in efforts to cooperate in the field, officials said. South Korea will send Vice Minister of Transport Yeo Hyung-koo to the meeting of the Organization for Co-operation between Railways to open in Mongolia on June 2. North Korea will be represented by Minister of Railways Jon Kil-su. In the four-day meeting, the South will push for membership in the OSJD. The North is among 28 member states. “The issue of South Korea’s membership in the OSJD is an agenda item in the upcoming session,” Yeo said. “If South Korea joins the organization, it would serve as an important chance for the trans-Korean railway project to gain speed.” The OSJD is tasked with improving the coordination of international rail transport, especially in Asia and Europe. South Korea has an ambitious goal of linking the Korean Peninsula with China and Europe by railway via the Trans-Siberian Railway and Trans-Chinese Railway projects and connecting the two Koreas will be the first step. “We are pushing for the trans-Korean train to run from Seoul to Sinuiju and Rajin on the Gyeongui line,” a Unification Ministry official said. (Yonhap, “S. Korea Seeks N. Korea’s Support on Railway Project,” Korea Herald, May 31, 2015)


6/1/15:
A North Korean diplomat told a German politician Pyongyang would “no longer sit at the same table as the United States,” and that it refuses to see the six-party talks as a solution. Kung Sok Ung, vice minister of foreign affairs, made the statement to Hartmut Koschyk, who chairs the German-Korean Parliamentary Friendship Group, according to Deutsche Presse-Agentur and Yonhap. Koschyk was on an official visit to Pyongyang when he met with the North Korean diplomat. (Elizabeth Shim, “N. Korea No Longer Seeks Talks with U.S. Citing ‘Threats,’ Says Report,” UPI, June 1, 2015)

Rep. Keiji Kokuta: The JASDF [Japan Air Self-Defense Force] decided to purchase the top-of-the-line F-35 fighter in Dec. 2011. This aircraft has stealth capabilities that make it extremely difficult for enemy radar to detect it. What is this aircraft’s range of activity? Defense Minister Nakatani Gen: About 1,100 kilometers. Kokuta: That means this aircraft is capable of reaching as far as the Korean Peninsula, Russia, and the East China Sea without aerial refueling. Another thing we can’t overlook is the weapons it can be equipped with. What is the JASSM [joint air-to-surface standoff missile]? Nakatani: That would be the AGM-158, which is a stealth-capable long-range precision-guided surface-to-air missile. Apparently, this missile is currently carried by American F-15 and F-16 fighters and in the future will also be carried by F-35 fighters. However, there are no plans to equip the JASDF’s F-35As with this missile at the present time, and I don‘t know have any detailed information about it. Kokuta: When you say there aren’t any plans to equip this missile at the present time, it sounds like you’re not completely denying that there are plans to equip it in the future. This weapon has a range of around 370 kilometers. That’s the distance from Tokyo to Nagoya. Isn’t the F-35 a fighter that meets all of the requirements for attacking an enemy base? Nakatani: While the JASDF currently possesses some of the equipment required for attacking an enemy base, it does not possess the entire range of equipment for carrying out a series of operations. Fielding the F-35 will not change that fact. Questions by Rep. Kokuta in the special committee of the House of Representatives It was the afternoon of June 1 during a meeting of a special committee in Japan’s House of Representatives that was set up to review revisions to security legislation intended to allow Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense. The last speaker during the day’s review was Rep. Keiji Kokuta, 68, a lawmaker with the Japanese Communist Party, who asked a number of trenchant questions about suspicious remarks that key figures in the Abe administration have made recently about attacking enemy bases. These questions abruptly added some tension to a meeting that had been on the verge of drawing to an end. The details of the exchange between Rep. Kokuta and Defense Minister Nakatani Gen goes a long way toward answering a number of questions regarding Japan’s enemy base strike capability, an issue that has provoked unusual interest in South Korea and other countries around Japan. Japan has repeatedly said that while attacking an enemy base is legally permissible, it is not actually capable of launching such an attack. But Kokuta and Nakatani‘s exchange makes clear that Japan’s strike ability will be strengthened considerably when the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) acquires the F-35A (42 fighters are planned). (Gil Yun-hyung, “Could Japan Carry out a Preemptive Strike on North Korea?” Hankyore, June 21, 2015)


6/2/15:
South and North Korea have failed to organize a joint event this month to mark the 15th anniversary of a historic inter-Korean summit, a preparatory group here said Tuesday, in what could be another setback to Seoul-Pyongyang ties. Last month, civilian groups from South and North Korea tentatively agreed to jointly celebrate the summit anniversary in a three-day event starting June 14 in Seoul. But no progress has been made as the North has turned to a lukewarm stance. The North said it “would be better” to separately hold anniversary events, according to a statement from the South’s committee that’s preparing for joint commemorative events. North Korea cited South Korea’s attitude as the reason. It claimed that the South’s government has remained indifferent about the event’s venue and set unnecessary preconditions by stating it would only allow inter-Korean civilian exchanges with a non-political purpose. “The North said that as long as there is no change in the South Korean government’s stance, there won’t be any good results even if working-level contacts for the event are held,” the statement read. The South, however, will continue efforts to change the North’s attitude on the matter, a committee official said. (Yonhap, “Koreas Fail to Agree on Joint Summit Anniversary,” June 2, 2015) On June 2, the spokesperson for the South Korean Preparatory Committee for a Joint National Ceremony Celebrating the 15th Anniversary of the Announcement of the June 15 North-South Joint Declaration and the 70th Anniversary of Liberation from Japan issued a statement that said, “The North Korean Committee for Implementing the June 15th North-South Joint Declaration sent us a letter on June 1 in which they stated that they had no choice but to hold the Joint National Ceremony on the 15th Anniversary of the June 15th North-South Joint Declaration separately in our respective regions.” The reasons the plans fell through, the North Korean preparatory committee said, were the South Korean government’s request to exclude political elements and the disagreement between the North and South Korean governments about the site of the event. The North Korean preparatory committee claimed that the South Korean government had placed conditions on the joint ceremony, stating that they would only allow it to go ahead if it was purely social and cultural in nature, and that they had yet to state their position about holding the event in Seoul. Regarding the location of the joint ceremonies on June 15 and Aug. 15, North Korea had wanted to hold them in Seoul and Pyongyang, while South Korea had insisted on Pyongyang and Seoul. Because of the symbolic importance of the 70th anniversary of liberation from Japan, which falls on Aug. 15, both sides had wanted to host that ceremony. The North and South Korean preparatory committees tentatively decided to hold the joint ceremony for the June 15 Joint Declaration In Seoul on June 14-16 during a meeting in Shenyang, China from May 5 to May 7.

It was the first time since 2010 that the South Korean government had allowed the two preparatory committees to make preliminary contact, giving rise to the hope that the committees would be able to organize joint ceremonies this year both for the anniversary of the joint declaration on June 15 and for liberation from Japan on August 15. But after a quarrel broke out over the question of location, the North Korean preparatory committee ignored a proposal by the South Korean committee to hold more working-level talks and then issued a statement by its spokesperson on May 15 criticizing the South Korean government. Some analysts think that the fundamental reason that the June 15 joint ceremony fell through is that South Korean President Park Geun-hye repeatedly commented on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, human rights abuses, and last month’s purge of North Korean defense chief Hyon Yong-chol, while North Korea lobbed vulgar insults at Park. “With the leaders of North and South Korea stubbornly insisting on their own positions without any strategy for improving inter-Korean relations, I think that not only the June 15 ceremony but also the joint ceremony on the 70th anniversary of liberation from Japan will fall through,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies. “Considering the elections for the National Assembly are next year and the presidential election is the year after that, the prospects for inter-Korean relations during Park’s term in office are very uncertain.” Lee Seung-hwan, chair of South Korea’s preparatory committee, hasn‘t given up hope yet. “Holding the June 15 ceremony separately cannot help but have an effect on the chances of holding a joint ceremony on the 70th anniversary of liberation from Japan. Still, since North and South Korean officials are taking into consideration a number of possibilities, it’s too soon to write it off.” (Kim Ji-hoon, “South and North Korea Likely to Hold This Year’s Celebrations Separately,” Hankyore, June 3, 2015) South Korea is struggling to bring North Korea to the dialogue table with the communist regime shrugging off the mounting denuclearization calls and shifting the blame to Seoul and Washington for escalating military tensions. The North’s evolving nuclear technologies including one to develop a submarine-launched ballistic missile have galvanized Seoul into employing a more active diplomacy. Yet the prospects of dialogue remain bleak as Pyongyang refuses to talk about its nuclear program, a critical tool for regime survival and national security. Seoul, along with Washington and Tokyo, recently accelerated its push to strengthen pressure and sanctions against the reclusive regime, as Seoul officials said there were no other viable means to induce the North to engage in talks. But doubts linger over whether applying additional pressure to the North would help create momentum for talks with the North. Analysts pointed out the North’s unwillingness to renounce its nuclear ambitions. “North Korean leader Kim Jong-un regards nuclear arms and the development of what the country calls a satellite and SLBM as symbols of self-reliance and self-dignity,” said Chang Yong-seok, a senior analyst at Seoul National University’s Institute for Peace and Unification Studies. “The symbols will be further emphasized ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party (in October).” As part of its efforts to resume talks with its wayward neighbor, Seoul has been seeking “exploratory dialogue” with Pyongyang, arguing there should be no preconditions for the new form of dialogue, which could lead to in-depth discussions for the resumption of the long-stalled six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the U.S. China, Japan and Russia. Previously, Seoul and Washington demanded that Pyongyang first show “sincerity” in its denuclearization commitments before the resumption of the multilateral talks, which have been stalled since December 2008. But the North has so far rejected the invitation for exploratory talks. “Pyongyang is still opposed to our proposal for exploratory talks even though we have removed all barriers for the talks. This leaves us no option but to raise pressure on the North to come out for dialogue,” a senior Seoul official told reporters. (Song Sang-ho, “Seoul Struggles in Push for Dialogue with N.K.,” Korea Herald, June 2, 2015)

South Korea and the United States have laid out four principles of their operations to effectively counter missile threats by North Korea, U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said. The principles “will guide decision-making, capability development and operations” of the allies “to counter the growing North Korean missile threat,” the USFK said in its yearly magazine titled “Strategic Digest,” published jointly by the United Nations Command and the Combined Forces Command. According to the USFK, the first principle of the allies is “to acquire, field, and employ counter-missile capabilities” based upon their combined threat assessment of North Korean missile threats.” The capabilities “include South Korea’s Kill Chain and Korean Air and Missile Defense System (KAMD) as well as U.S. capabilities on and off the Korean Peninsula,” it added. Kill Chain refers to a pre-emptive strike apparatus, and the KAMD is a low-tier air defense program that South Korea has been working to develop in the face of Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile threats instead of joining the U.S.-led air defense system. With Washington vowing to deploy its cutting-edge weapons in the Asia-Pacific region as part of its efforts to rebalance toward the region, it has expressed its will to introduce the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system on the peninsula. THAAD is designed to shoot down short, medium and intermediate ballistic missiles at a higher altitude in their terminal phase using a hit-to-kill method. According to the second principle, the allies “will drive progress and enhance proficiency in counter-missile operations through combined exercises, training and inter-operable capabilities and refinement of procedures.” In a move to convey their steadfast resolve and ability against the threats from the North, the two sides also vowed to boost capabilities required to implement the so-called 4D strategy, according to the USFK. The 4D strategy, endorsed last year, postures South Korean and the U.S. “to detect, defend, disrupt and destroy” ballistic missile threats by the communist North, and the allies plan to devise operational plans based upon the strategy. In the fourth principle, the two sides “will execute counter-missile operations based upon bilateral consultation and coordination,” according to the magazine. (Oh Seok-min, “S. Korea, U.S. Devise Principles against N.K. Missiles,” Yonhap, June 2, 2015)


6/3/15:
South Korea successfully test-fired a domestically built ballistic missile that can hit all of North Korea, an official said, amid continuing animosity between the rivals over the North’s push to bolster its nuclear and missile capabilities. The missile, which had a reported range of more than 500 kilometers (300 miles), was fired from a southern launch pad, said an official at Seoul’s Defense Ministry. President Park Geun-hye watched the launch, according to her office. At the same launch pad today, South Korea tested another missile aimed at shooting down an enemy ballistic missile, the defense official said an upgraded surface-to-air missile named Cheolmae II, or M-SAM, which is capable of intercepting an incoming target at an altitude of 15 kilometers or higher. (Hyung-Jin Kim, “S. Korea Test-Fires Missile That Can Strike All of N. Korea,” Associated Press, June 3, 2015)

The radar for the US weapon system known as THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Air Defense) can be converted from a mode with a short detection range to a mode with a long detection range in eight hours, a Pentagon document confirms. This demonstrates the hollowness of arguments by proponents of THAAD, who have claimed that if THAAD radar in short detection mode were deployed on the Korean Peninsula, its range would be limited to North Korea and would have little effect on China. This information turned up in a document titled “Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Budget Estimates: Missile Defense Agency” that the Hankyoreh accessed from the website of the US Defense Department on June 2. This is the first time that the fact that the modes can be switched in eight hours has been confirmed in a Pentagon document. Published in Feb. 2011, the document says, “In a forward-based role, the AN/TPY-2 provides target detection and tracking during the boost phase, reducing uncertainty in target discrimination and reaction time. [ … ] In terminal mode, the AN/TPY-2 provides target acquisition, tracking, and discrimination for fire control of the THAAD Battery.” “These radars are transportable, adding flexibility to respond to geographical changes in threat,” the document adds. “Eleven additional AN/TPY-2 Radars are needed [ … ] Each AN/TPY-2 radar can be configured for THAAD [terminal mode] or forward-based mode, and can be switched between modes in eight (8) hours,” the document says. “The hardware used by the two modes is identical, but their controlling software, operating logic, and communications package are different,” a technology manual for the US army says. In other words, it can be inferred that it takes about eight hours to convert to the second set of software. This shows that, even if the US deployed the radars in South Korea in terminal mode, they could still be converted to forward-based mode to detect Chinese intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in the event that conflict with China intensified. Some sources indicate that the radar has a detection range of 600-900km in terminal mode and 1,800-2,000km in forward-based mode, but the US army manual only says that the range in forward-based mode is greater than 1,000km. According to analytical findings that two American missile defense experts recently provided to Hankyore, if the THAAD radar were deployed on the Korean Peninsula, it could detect and track ICBMs launched from China with a maximum range of 3,000km. These two experts were Theodore Postol, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and George Lewis, senior researcher at Cornell University. The experts believe that the time required to switch between the two modes could be considerably reduced. “Since military technology develops so rapidly, the time needed for conversion could be reduced even more,” Lewis said. Postol told Hankyore, “Raytheon executives said last year they can increase the processiong speed of the AN/TPY-2 by five times. It shows how readily critical components of the AN/TPY-2 radars can be upgraded.” “If a delay between switching from TM to FBM modes might be due to a need to change communication modules, modern electronics would surely make it possible to construct a communications module that does both jobs. Hence, claims about the radar only being usable in one or the other mode are essentially technical nonsense,” Postol added. (Park Hyun, “Pentagon Document Confirms THAAD’s Eight-Hour Conversion Ability,” Hankyore, June 3, 2015)


6/4/15:
CPRK spokesman’s statement: “Recently, the south Korean puppet group is behaving so impudently as to noisily trumpet about “dialogue” with the DPRK. Notably, Park Geun Hye lets loose a spate of invectives hurting the social system of the DPRK whenever an opportunity presents itself. She, at the same time, spouts rhetoric urging it to come out for dialogue and not to refuse the south’s proposal for dialogue in a bid to mislead the public opinion, creating impression that a dialogue between the authorities of the north and the south has not yet opened due to the DPRK. Pursuant to her scenario, Yun Pyong Se, Hong Yong Phyo and other mandarins of the south Korean puppet regime held a series of anti-DPRK confabs with their U.S. and Japanese masters, at which they cried out for “leading the north to dialogue in line with the strategy of pressure and dialogue.” ….The above-said moves are no more than renewed politically-motivated chicanery and red herring operation being staged by the puppet group in a sinister bid to shift the blame for the deteriorated north-south relations on to the DPRK, tide over the ever-worsening ruling crisis and escalate confrontation with the DPRK with the backing of outsiders. It is, indeed, the height of impudence for the puppet group to talk about “dialogue” as it has chilled the atmosphere for improving the inter-Korean relations and scuppered the opportunity for dialogue. No one will lend an ear to such ill-natured advertisement of “dialogue” by the Park Geun Hye group and it will never be able to evade the responsibility for having deteriorated the north-south relations through such hypocritical burlesque. If the puppet group truly wants dialogue with the north, the group should have elementary qualities as a dialogue partner. First of all, the group should have the viewpoint to independently solve the reunification issue with the concerted efforts of all Koreans and the stand to recognize and implement the joint declarations agreed upon by the authorities of the north and the south. It should stop toeing the U.S. hostile policy towards the DPRK and roll back the policy of confrontation with compatriots in the north and halt at once the north-targeted war drills straining the situation. Only when it does so, can it claim it has elementary qualifications as a dialogue partner and it will have the face to sit together with the DPRK. The DPRK will closely follow what the south Korean puppet group do in practice, not just talking.” (KCNA, “S. Korea Regime Is Not Entitled to Talk about Disalogue: CPRK Spokesman,” June 4, 2015)

North Korea’s global trade expanded in 2014 from a year earlier, but its trade deficit also widened due to a drop in exports, according to the report by the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency. North Korea’s trade came to US$7.61 billion last year, up 3.7 percent from a year earlier. The figures did not count its trade with South Korea. North Korea’s exports shrank 1.7 percent on-year to $3.16 billion last year, while imports grew 7.8 percent to $4.45 billion over the same period, the report showed. Based on the figures, North Korea posted a trade deficit of $1.29 billion last year, with its shortfall jumping 41 percent from the year before. Minerals and fossil fuels, including coal, were among the country’s major export items as its overseas sales stood at $1.18 billion, which accounted for 37.2 percent of its total annual exports. The report showed that North Korea continues to depend heavily on China for its trade. Last year, bilateral trade between the two countries reached $6.86 billion, up 4.9 percent from a year earlier. North Korea’s dependence on China in trade increased slightly from 89.1 percent in 2013 to 90.1 percent last year, according to the report. (Yonhap, “N. Korea’s Global Trade Expands But Trade Gap Widens,” June 5, 2015) North Korean trade with Russia decreased sharply in the first quarter of 2015, according to data from the ITC Trade Map, despite continued attempts to improve bilateral economic cooperation between the two countries. Both imports and exports between Russia and North Korea fell in the first four months of 2015 compared to 2014 numbers. Exports from North Korea to Russia fell from more than $3 million in the fourth quarter of last year to approximately $500,000.The drop was mostly on the back of a big reduction of machine and clothes exports to Russia. While the latter group also appears to fluctuate based on the season, imports in the first four months of 2015 were also lower than those a year earlier. Exports from Russia to North Korea account for the largest share of trade between the two countries, and also fell in the first quarter. Overall, Russian exports fell by nearly 20 percent so far in 2015, compared to last quarter of 2014. At $17 million, the figure was 70 percent of that in the same period last year. North Korea’s lower imports from Russia were mainly due to a large decrease in food imports. Throughout the last six months of 2014, the DPRK imported more than $12 million in cereals from Russia, but these imports appeared to cease in 2015. The overall numbers dropped despite an uptick in North Korean imports of Russian coal. From 2013 to 2014 trade values also fell, but were not as low as the most recent 2015 figures. The news comes despite a flurry of diplomatic and political exchanges between the two countries geared towards increasing economic cooperation and trade, with Russia setting a target of $1 billion in trade by 2020. Experts, however, remain skeptical on cooperation. “The goal of $1 billion is not that realistic because both sides cannot make any huge profitable projects. Trilateral projects including South Korea are promising I think but bilateral projects between North Korea and Russia are limited,” Cho Han-bum of the Korea Institute for National Unification (KNU) told NK News last month. (Leo Byrne, “Russia, North Korea Trade Drops in Q1,” NKNews, June 4, 2015)

President Obama’s top adviser on Asia policy is leaving his post at a time of growing uncertainty over China’s assertive behavior in the region, raising questions over the administration’s strategy ahead of a high-stakes visit from President Xi Jinping in the fall. Evan Medeiros, a China expert who has worked at the National Security Council during all of Obama’s tenure, will step down as the agency’s Asia director on Thursday, officials said. He will be replaced by Daniel Kritenbrink, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. (David Nakamura, “Top White House Adviser on Asia Policy Is Stepping down,” Washington Post, June 4, 2014)

South Korea again failed to join an international organization for railroad cooperation, a prerequisite for building a trans-Asian railway, due to opposition from North Korea, the Seoul government said on June 4. (Yonhap, “S. Korea Fails to Join Railway Cooperation Body due to N. Korea,” North Korea Newsletter, 366, June 11, 2015)


6/5/15:
Seoul plans to help Pyongyang prevent Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) from spreading at Kaesong Industrial Complex (GIC). South Korean enterprises will supply masks to their North Korean employees at the inter-Korean industrial park in North Korea’s border city, the Ministry of Unification said. The ministry, which deals with inter-Korean affairs, said Thursday it would set up three thermal scanners at the GIC next week following Pyongyang’s request on June 2. “It will be up to the firms running business there to provide masks to their North Korean workers,” a ministry official said on condition of anonymity. “The thermal scanners will be handed over to the North Korean side by Monday [June 8] through appropriate procedures.” MERS, a respiratory illness, has killed four people in South Korea since its outbreak in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, in late May. (Yi Whan-woo, “Seoul to Lend N.K. Help to Prevent MERS at Inter-Kotrean Industrial Park,” Korea Times, June 5, 2015)

Jack Liu: “Recent commercial satellite imagery indicates that North Korea is conducting regular spring construction and maintenance activities at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site. There are no indications of nuclear test preparations at this time. Given the time and effort such preparations require, North Korea is unlikely to conduct another nuclear test until at least fall 2015 at the earliest.” (Jack Liu, “North Korea Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site: Spring Construction and Maintenance Continues,” 38North, June 5, 2015)


6/7/15:
Officials from the UK government met with North Korean counterparts and discussed concerns over the country’s human rights record on three occasions in early 2015, parliamentary transcripts from Thursday showed. Lord Alton of Liverpool asked the Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Baroness Anelay of St John’s, whether or not the government had raised the issue recently with the DPRK and the contents of those discussions. In her reply, Anelay said the UK government remains “deeply concerned” and detailed three instances of contact in 2015, when human rights issues were discussed. “In January, representatives of EU embassies in Pyongyang, including the UK, met the DPRK Foreign Minister to discuss a range of issues including human rights,” Anelay said. Anelay added that FCO officials met North Korean Embassy officials in February to discuss freedom of expression, the March UN Human Rights Council session, which foreign minister Ri Su Yong attended, and the plans for an EU resolution on human rights in the DPRK. “More recently, at a meeting in March with the DPRK Ambassador to the UK, we underlined the strength of British Government and public interest in this issue,” Anelay said. Although human rights topics were discussed during these exchanges, the meetings may not have been specifically scheduled for this purpose. However the FCO said the topic is of ongoing concern. “We have longstanding concerns over the human rights situation in the DPRK. Since the establishment of UK-DPRK diplomatic relations in December 2000, we have used critical engagement to raise UK concerns over the DPRK’s failure to adhere to international norms, primarily through regular meetings between UK and DPRK officials,” an Foreign Office spokesperson told NK News on June 5. While there were not many further details provided on the discussions, Anelay said the response from the DPRK was not positive. “The DPRK expressed disappointment over the UK and EU’s work to raise our concerns in international fora and challenged international assessments of its domestic human rights situation.” North Korea has been under intense pressure over its human rights record following the publication of a 372-page UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report in February 2014. The report detailed abuses that it said, in some cases, amounted to crimes against humanity. “The UK strongly supported the establishment of the COI, which helped shine a spotlight on shocking human rights violations in the DPRK,” the FCO spokesperson told NK News. “This has enriched the debate on the human rights situation within the DPRK and provided a further basis upon which to take forward discussion with the DPRK.” Alton, who is also the chair of All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea (APPGNK), asked multiple questions of Anelay during the session, including on the reported purge of former defense minister Hyong Yong Chol, the proposed UN field office in Seoul and the current UN World Food Program (WFP) funding shortfall. (Hamish Macdonald, “U.K. Discussed Human Rights Issues with North Korea in Early 2015,” NKNews, June 7, 2015)


6/8/15:
North Korea is believed to have secret nuclear facilities unknown to the outside world in addition to those at the country’s main Yongbyon nuclear complex, the State Department said in its 2015 Report on Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments. It also said that Pyongyang appears to have no intention to comply with its denuclearization commitments. “The United States believes there is a clear likelihood of additional unidentified nuclear facilities in the DPRK,” the State Department report said. (Yonhap, “U.S. Believes N. Korea Has Secret Nuclear Facilities,” June 8, 2015)

A sustainable policy on North Korea that can survive different administrations must be created by politicians from different sides of the ideological spectrum and presented to the public, a special National Assembly committee and the Korea Forum for Peace, Prosperity and Unification said.

A group of lawmakers, including the heads of the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, and experts attended a seminar on Monday hosted by the National Assembly’s special committee on inter-Korean relations development and the private think tank. The event, organized by JoongAng Ilbo, took place at the National Assembly. After the seminar, a 10-point joint statement was announced by the bipartisan special committee and the forum, participated in by both conservative and liberal experts. They agreed that a sustainable North Korea policy must be established by the National Assembly and major political parties.

In the statement, the special committee and the forum said the spirit of the existing agreements between the two Koreas must be respected even after administrations change. “The July 4 South-North Joint Communique, the South-North basic agreement, the June 15 joint declaration and the Oct. 4 declaration must be respected and further developed,” they said. (Kim Kyung-bin, “North Forum Calls for Bipartisan Policy,” JoongAng Ilbo, June 9, 2015)


6/9/15:
The U.N. Security Council is unlikely to impose new sanctions or issue any formal statement with regard to North Korea’s test-launch of a ballistic missile from a submarine, a diplomatic source said. South Korea sent a letter to the North Korea Sanctions Committee requesting a probe and punitive action. “North Korea’s firing of an SLBM is a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. But China and Russia maintain a tepid stance,” the source told Yonhap. “The U.N. Security Council is a forum where political decisions are made.” Some member states apparently believe that the North’s SLBM technology is not at a level of serious concern yet, given its complicated nature, added the source. “The U.N. Security Council is instead accumulating records of North Korea’s violations of its resolutions for possible future actions,” the source said. (Lee Chi-dong, “No Punishment Expected for N. Korea over SLBM,” Yonhap, June 9, 2015)


6/10/15:
President Park Geun-hye has decided to delay her trip to the United States scheduled for later this week as part of efforts to assuage the public’s deepening fears over the Middle East respiratory syndrome, Cheong Wa Dae said. “To assure the public from growing MERS fears, the president has decided to postpone her trip to the U.S. to look after the people and bring an end to the MERS outbreak,” said senior press secretary Kim Sung-woo. “Because the people’s safety is her top priority, she will delay the trip to the U.S. and will stay to dispel the public fear,” Kim added. The decision came after a phone call between Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry earlier in the morning, according to Cheong Wa Dae officials. The South Korean foreign minister agreed to reschedule the trip at the earliest and most convenient time in the future for both. Park was to leave on June14 for a six-day trip to Washington and Houston, which was to include a summit with President Obama. “President Obama looks forward to welcoming President Park to the White House at a mutually convenient time in the future to discuss the U.S.-Korea alliance and the critical role it plays in assuring regional stability and security,” said White House National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey, according to the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. “As just one example of this partnership, the United States is working closely with our Korean partners to support their response to the MERS cases in South Korea,” he said. (Cho Chung-un, “Park Postpones U.S. Trip over MERS Crisis,” Korea Herald, June 10, 2015)


6/11/15:
International pressure will not lead North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, Moscow’s top envoy to Seoul said, calling for a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the issue. Ambassador Alexander Timonin’s remarks are a clear departure from the stance of South Korea, the United States and Japan, whose nuclear envoys agreed last month to enhance pressure on North Korea amid its continued provocations. “We are against any pressure on any country,” he told Yonhap during a function at the Russian Embassy. “All the issues of security must be settled by peaceful, diplomatic means. Because by pressure and by threats, it’s impossible to settle any problem, especially in this region.” (Lee Haye-ah, “Russia against Pressuring N. Korea over Nuclear Program: Ambassador,” Yonhap, June 11, 2015)

Park interview: “How do you assess the situation in North Korea, with Kim Jong-un executing so many senior officials? Since [he] took power 3 1 / 2 years ago, he has executed some 90 officials. Indeed, the reign of terror continues to this day. Although one can say that the reign of terror might work in the short term, in the mid- to long term, it is actually sowing and amplifying the seeds of instability for the regime. Currently, North Korea is constantly upgrading and enhancing the sophistication of its nuclear weapons, and developing and honing its missile capabilities as well. These represent a threat not just to the Korean Peninsula but also to the international community. So it is extremely urgent that we achieve a denuclearization of North Korea. How can that be done when they don’t seem to care about the outside world? The Korea-U.S. alliance relationship, as well as the international community and also five of the six parties engaged in talks, need to step up the pressure . . . to bring them back to the negotiating table. We can instill in them the belief that possessing nuclear weapons is an exercise in futility. How? By increasing sanctions? We could step up pressure vis-a-vis North Korea. Last week, the United States government announced that there were “additional unidentified nuclear facilities” in North Korea. Does South Korea think that North Korea’s nuclear program is larger than was previously believed? The International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors have not been able to go inside North Korea [in quite a while], so there is a probability that what you just said is true. When you look at the Iranian sanctions regime, which resulted in denuclearization talks, would you like to see a similar approach to North Korea? Of course things should turn out that way, but I believe in reality [in this part of the world] it might be more difficult. You have a good relationship with China’s president, Xi Jinping. China is one of the last countries to have some influence over North Korea, and it provides the country with much of its energy. Does Xi share your views? Would he cut off some of the energy China sends to North Korea? I have had summit meetings with President Xi Jinping. In the past, we were not able to engage in in-depth discussions on the topic of unification or North Korean nuclear weapons. But now we have reached a point — between President Xi and myself — where we can talk extensively about North Korea and about peaceful unification as well. President Xi firmly adheres to the position that he will not accept a nuclear-armed North Korea. From the Chinese perspective, on the one hand they say that it wouldn’t be wise to rattle the situation too much. On the other hand, [they also believe] that if we let the ongoing enhancement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons continue, eventually we will face a situation that will be beyond our control. So China doesn’t want to cut off all the energy it sends to North Korea? China could bring about a collapse that way? Yes, that would be a fair assessment. Would you welcome a collapse? Or not welcome one? My hope is to see a peaceful resolution . . . without seeing a collapse scenario. It sounds difficult to do anything with North Korea, much as you and others have tried. If it is as dangerous as you say, what is the next alternative? Shutting off banking flows? We are engaged in a wide range of discussions with the United States on how to deal with this situation. If we are to see a peaceful resolution, the North Koreans also have to step up. As you say in English, it takes two to tango. Do you see any cracks in the regime in North Korea? Recently, a senior North Korean defected and confessed to us that because of the ongoing and widespread executions that include even his inner circle, they are afraid for their lives. That is what prompted him to flee. Was he part of the inner circle? No, he wouldn’t qualify as an inner-circle person. He was part of the cadre of the party. You recently attended the testing of a South Korean missile that can reach all parts of North Korea. The North Koreans continue to enhance the sophistication of their nuclear capabilities and also develop a wide range of missiles. So it is incumbent upon us to fashion a response. In the future, this missile will be a key element to our Korean Air and Missile Defense System. The U.S. reportedly favors deploying Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), the Army’s anti-ballistic-missile system, to South Korea. What will you say if the U.S. requests this deployment here? We would look at this together with the U.S., taking into consideration a variety of elements, including whether it serves our national security interest. China has asked South Korea not to permit the deployment of THAAD. So China pressures you not to do it while the U.S. pressures you to do it. Do you feel squeezed? When it comes to security, it shouldn’t be about yes or no depending on the position of certain countries. The first priority should be how can we best safeguard the Korean people. You have had tremendous success in improving South Korea’s relationship with China. You have visited China, and President Xi Jinping has visited your country. How do you see China’s behavior in the South China Sea, where it has expanded its claims quite aggressively? China is Korea’s largest trading partner, and China has a huge role to play in upholding peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. . . . As for the South China Sea, the security and freedom of navigation are very important for South Korea. We are watching with concern the developments in that area. We hope that the situation does not deteriorate. (Lally Weymouth, “’Eventually We Will Face a Situation That Is beyond Our Control,’” Washington Post, June 11, 2015)


6/12/15:
It used to be an often-cited story about Park Geun-hye, the president of South Korea: When her father, the longtime dictator Park Chung-hee, was assassinated by his spy chief in 1979, her first reaction was to ask whether there was any unusual movement by the North Korean military along the border. The episode helped build Park an image as a strong leader who could keep a clear head in a crisis. But that image has come crashing down as Park’s government has fumbled in its efforts to contain an outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome, just a year after she and her administration were criticized for their response to the ferry sinking that killed 304 people, mostly teenagers. With her approval rating plunging, critics and political analysts alike are questioning her leadership as the country faces pressing issues like a slowing economy, a national pension system awaiting an overhaul, and nuclear and missile threats from North Korea. “She is too slow, too closed, to be able to deliver a timely message to her people at a time like this,” said Choi Jin, director of the Institute of Presidential Leadership in Seoul. “She has turned out to be the most shut-off and people-averse president we ever had. I have serious doubts about the rest of her term.” While the outbreak has exposed failings in the country’s public health system, like overcrowded emergency rooms, Ms. Park’s leadership has also been called into question. Her approval rating, which hovered around 40 percent before the outbreak, has dropped to 33 percent, according to a survey released by Gallup Korea. Reacting to domestic pressure, Park on June 10 postponed a meeting with President Obama in Washington that had been set for next week. “Her lame-duck phase is arriving sooner than expected,” said Kim Ji-yoon, a political analyst at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, citing growing questions about her competence. “I don’t think the postponement of her U.S. trip does anything good, other than making her look inconsistent.” Even the country’s powerful conservative news media, which tends to support Park, has begun attacking her amid the MERS outbreak. Her critics say she failed to recognize a national crisis early on and to communicate with the people, acting only once popular opinion had turned against her. They note that she did not convene a meeting of cabinet ministers and civilian experts on MERS until two weeks after the outbreak began. As many as five overlapping task forces from different government agencies have sprung up to deal with MERS, which critics say shows the same lack of efficient leadership displayed during the ferry crisis. (Choe Sang-hun, “MERS Tarnishes Korean President’s Image as Leader,” New York Times, June 13, 2015)


6/13/15:
DPRK FoMin spokesman: “The U.S. State Department let its senior advisor on strategy and communications cry out for international pressure on the DPRK, terming its satellite launch a violation of the UNSC “resolutions” which ban all lift-offs by use of ballistic technology. The U.S. accusation against the DPRK over its just and legitimate satellite launch under the pretext of violation of the “resolutions” is a wanton infringement and challenge to its sovereignty. The DPRK’s satellite launch for peaceful purposes is inviolable as it is an exercise of a legitimate independent right of a sovereign state publicly recognized by international law, which is above UNSC resolutions. Among UN member states the U.S. is the only country which takes the lead in taking issue with the DPRK’s legitimate satellite launch, another example clearly proving the U.S. extreme hostile policy toward the latter. The U.S. asserts that all its satellite launches are legitimate but the DPRK’s all satellite launches are illegal. This robber-like insistence is the height of the U.S.-style double standards and a revelation of ill-intentioned inveterate repugnance toward the DPRK. The DPRK’s status as a satellite manufacturer and launcher can never change no matter how desperately the hostile forces negate it, and its space development is not something which can be given up because of someone’s opposition. It is the firm resolution and will of the DPRK to push back the frontiers of latest science and technology in the field of space development, too, in order to protect the self-esteem and dignity of the nation. The U.S. and other hostile forces will have no alternative but to watch the DPRK’s satellites soaring into the outer space one after another till they will come to realize how illegal and foolish their attempt to check the DPRK’s legitimate satellite launches by dint of the above-said “resolutions” is.” (KCNA, “FM Spokesman Accuses U.S. of Again Pulling up DPRK over Its Satellite Launch for Peaceful Purposes,” June 13, 2015)


6/14/15:
North Korea fired three short-range missiles into the East Sea on Sunday, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said. The communist North “fired three KN-01 missiles from its eastern border town of Wonsan onto Mayang Island (in the East Sea) between 4:21 p.m. and 4:47 p.m. today,” the JCS said in a statement. The launch is presumed to be Pyongyang’s additional test-firing of the anti-ship projectiles after two rounds of the same tests were carried out in February and last month, one of the JCS officers said, noting that the cruise missiles flew some 100 kilometers. (Yonhap, “N. Korea 3 Short-Range Missiles into East Sea,” Korea Times, June 14, 2015)


6/15/15:
DPRK government statement: “Leader Kim Jong Il provided the Pyongyang summit and adopted the June 15 joint declaration true to the noble intention of President Kim Il Sung who dedicated all his life to the cause of national reunification. It marked a historic event which brought about a turning-point in improving the north-south relations and achieving national reunification. …The publication of the June 15 joint declaration made it possible for the north and the south of Korea to defuse the distrust and confrontation which had lasted for more than half century and greet a new era advancing toward reconciliation, unity and reunification by concerted efforts of the Koreans. Had the north-south relations made steady advance along the way indicated by the June 15 joint declaration, eye-opening changes and successes would have been achieved in the drive for national reunification, the desire of the Korean nation. However, the north-south relations were brought back to the era of confrontation in the past due to the despicable moves of the Lee Myung Bak conservative group which totally denied the north-south joint declarations and this catastrophe has reached a grave phase at present. Upon the authorization the DPRK government in its statement clarifies the following stand, prompted by the will to save the north-south relations from a serious crisis and bring about a landmark turn in national reconciliation and unity: It is necessary to have a firm stand to improve the north-south relations and solve the reunification issue independently by the concerted efforts of the Korean nation. It is the basic spirit of the June 15 joint declaration to solve issues related to the inter-Korean relations and the matter of the country’s reunification independently by the concerted efforts of the Korean nation responsible for it. The north and the south should settle all the issues arising in improving the inter-Korean relations and achieving reunification in line with the interests and desire of the nation with strong national self-respect. The south Korean authorities should stop soliciting “international cooperation” to hurt the fellow countrymen in the north by relying on outside forces, not leaving the national issue to their tender mercy. They should come out for improving the inter-Korean relations and solving the reunification issue by the concerted efforts of the Koreans. The south Korean authorities should not seek “unification of social systems” inciting distrust and confrontation between the north and the south. Now that differing ideologies and social systems have existed in the north and the south for the past seven decades, any attempt to achieve reunification under one social system would bring nothing but confrontation and war. The north and the south recognized the common points in the north-proposed federation of lower stage and the south-proposed confederation in the June 15 joint declaration and agreed to work for reunification in this direction. The south Korean authorities should clearly understand that the co-existence and co-prosperity of the north and the south irrespective of ideology and social systems are the most reasonable and realistic way for national reunification. The south Korean authorities should stop north-targeted war exercises in collusion with the U.S. The south Korean authorities staged ceaseless war rehearsals against the north such as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle joint military exercises in league with the U.S., chilling the desire of all Koreans for reunification and scuppering the golden chances for improving the inter-Korean relations. The inter-Korean relations can never improve nor can the Korean peninsula get rid of the danger of a nuclear war as long as these military threat and provocations persist. The south Korean authorities should halt such dangerous act as leaving the life and safety of the Koreans exposed to the war shambles of aggressors as a shock brigade in carrying out the U.S. strategy for dominating the Asia-Pacific region. There is no need for them to feel any uneasiness and fear of the DPRK’s self-defensive deterrence for protecting the dignity, stability and peace of the nation but they should discontinue acts of treachery of taking issue with it. They should put a definite end to all military drills with the U.S. and come out for defending peace and stability on the Korean peninsula by the concerted efforts of the Korean nation. 4. It is necessary to create a climate for mending the north-south relations. Slandering each other is a venomous practice fostering distrust and hatred towards fellow countrymen and such practice, if unchecked, may lead to physical conflict and war. The south Korean authorities should not just pay lip-service to “confidence-building” and “improvement of relations” but stop all provocations of rattling the nerves of the DPRK and slandering it. The south Korean authorities should boldly remove the legal and institutional barriers blocking north-south contacts, visits, exchange and cooperation and create environment favorable for repairing the relations. 5. The north and the south should take practical measures to implement the historic north-south joint declarations. The June 15 joint declaration and the October 4 declaration are valuable agreements made at the summits of the north and the south for the improvement of the relations and co-prosperity and solemn promises made by the north and the south authorities to the nation. If the north-south joint declarations should be denied and their implementation suspended because of regime changes, no issue can be settled between the north and the south in the future. The south Korean authorities should not just pay lip-service to respect for the June 15 joint declaration and the October 4 declaration but prove it in practice. The south Korean authorities should bear in mind that they are now standing at the crossroads: Whether they join hands with the north to repair the inter-Korean relations or they will meet the same miserable end as what their predecessors did while standing in confrontation with the north to the last. Consistent is the stand of the DPRK to pave a wide avenue to independent reunification by bringing about a great turn in the north-south relations.” (KCNA, “Stand of DPRK to Bring about Landmark Turn in Improving Inter-Korean Relations Clarified,” June 15, 2015)

North Korea said it is open to holding talks with South Korea if certain conditions are met, including the suspension of the South’s joint military drills with the United States. “If the atmosphere for trust and reconciliation is created, there is no reason not to hold dialogue and talks between the two Koreas,” read a statement carried by KCNA. The statement came on the 15th anniversary of a historic inter-Korean summit between then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. “South Korea should be aware that it stands at a critical juncture as it should decide over whether to join hands with the North for the better inter-Korean ties or to face a miserable fate by continuing to confront the North,” the statement said. In response, Seoul’s unification ministry called on the North to come to the talks “without laying out improper preconditions.” “North Korea should immediately suspend provocative acts that are raising tension on the peninsula as the North insists that an atmosphere amicable for better inter-Korean relations should be created,” the ministry said in a press release. It also urged Pyongyang to accept Seoul’s bid to promote inter-Korean civilian exchanges in a bid to restore national unity. Experts said that the ball is now in South Korea’s court as the North at least showed its readiness for the talks, though some conditions are attached. “Given the statement was rare, the North appeared to send a message that if the South shows some flexibility over the issues of the drills and Seoul’s punitive actions, the North is ready to have talks,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies. South Korea needs to be active in having talks with North Korea for better inter-Korean ties, said Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies under Seoul National University. “Seoul will not lift the punitive sanctions against Pyongyang, but it can show sincerity for the talks by curbing Seoul activists’ launch of anti-Pyongyang leaflets or approving inter-Korean exchanges,” he added. But Kim Young-soo, a professor at Sogang University, cast a pessimistic view. “Seoul will not be able to accept Pyongyang’s offer as preconditions set by the North cannot be met. Then, the North would blame the South for a possible rupture of inter-Korean talks,” the professor added. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Says It Is Open to Talks with S. Korea,” June 15, 2015)

North Korea notified South Korea of its plan to repatriate two South Koreans, alleged to have illegally entered the communist nation, later this week, the Unification Ministry said. In a fax message, the North said it will send a 59-year-old man, only identified by his surname, Lee, and a 51-year-old woman, surnamed Jin, back to the South on Wednesday via the truce village of Panmunjom that sits on the inter-Korean border, according to the ministry. The North said they “illegally” entered its soil in May without elaborating on when or why they did so. The ministry said it accepted Pyongyang’s proposal. (Yonhap, “N. Korea to Send Two S. Koreans Back Home,” Korea Herald, June 15, 2015)


6/16/15:
South Korea and the United States have reaffirmed their resolve to ratchet up pressure on North Korea in their high-level talks, the Foreign Ministry said. On his trip to Washington, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se held a series of meetings with U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice and other top officials. “The two sides agreed to make efforts for the resumption of meaningful talks with North Korea, along with stronger pressure,” the ministry said in a press release. It added the allies will deal resolutely with Pyongyang’s provocations on the basis of robust combined deterrence, citing “unstable internal situations” in the reclusive communist nation. Yun also had a group dinner meeting yesterday with Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel; Sung Kim, special representative for North Korea affairs; Sydney Seiler, special envoy for six-party talks; and Allison Hooker, director for Korea at the National Security Council. He is also scheduled to meet Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Undersecretary Wendy Sherman, and John Hamre, president and CEO of Center for Strategic and International Studies, on Tuesday before returning home. (Lee Chi-dong, “S. Korea, U.S. to Put More Pressure on N. Korea,” Yonhap, June 16, 2015)

Sigal: “While the Obama administration negotiates with Iran, North Korea is giving every indication it intends to attempt another satellite launch this fall. If, as expected, the UN Security Council responds with more sanctions, Pyongyang will take that as a pretext for conducting its fourth nuclear-weapons test. As its Foreign Ministry spokesman put it on May 30, “[T]he only way to prevent a war between the DPRK and the U.S., which lack even elementary trust in each other and have long stood in mistrust and hostility only, is for the former to bolster up its defense capabilities so as to ensure balance of forces.” To many in Washington, further arming by Pyongyang is a foregone conclusion. That assumption is wrong. The belief in North Korea’s determination to arm is belied by the fact that from 1991 to 2003, it reprocessed no fissile material and conducted very few test launches of medium- or long-range missiles. It suspended its weapons programs again from 2007 to early 2009. Over the past two years, while it continued to enrich uranium and resumed generating plutonium, it refrained from testing what it called its new “miniaturized” nuclear weapon or test launching any of its new longer-range missiles, a signal that it wanted to renew negotiations with the United States. To many in Washington, such negotiations, unlike those with Iran, seem pointless if North Korea is unwilling to give up the handful of crude nuclear weapons it has. That ignores the potential danger that Pyongyang’s unbounded weapons programs pose to U.S. and allied security. It is on the verge of testing an advanced nuclear device that could be mounted on new, as yet untested longer-range missiles. That assumption also ignores the possibility that Pyongyang may be willing to suspend its nuclear and missile programs if its security concerns are addressed. That was the gist of its January 9, 2015 offer of “temporarily suspending the nuclear test over which the U.S. is concerned” if the United States “temporarily suspend[s] joint military exercises in South Korea and its vicinity this year.” Like most opening bids, that was unacceptable, but instead of probing further, Washington rejected it out of hand within hours. It turned out that the North seemed ready to settle for modulating rather than cancelling the largest exercises and seemed prepared to suspend not just nuclear testing, but also missile and satellite launches and fissile material production in return. Its main point was the need for reciprocal steps to address both sides’ security concerns. That opened the way to a resumption of talks this January, but after some back and forth, that initiative was squelched in Washington. Instead, U.S. officials continued to insist that Pyongyang take unilateral steps to show it was serious about denuclearizing and ruled out reciprocity by Washington. As the senior U.S. diplomat for East Asia, Daniel Russel, put it on February 4, “North Korea does not have the right to bargain, to trade or ask for a pay-off in return for abiding by international law.” The Obama administration tried again to open talks last month, but North Korea was unresponsive. Some attribute this change of course to Kim Jong-un’s internal troubles. While resisting military demands for a budget increase, demands that may have led to the defense minister’s execution, it is possible Kim decided to “strengthen his deterrent” in his own version of Eisenhower’s bigger bang for a buck. While that explanation is plausible, it conveniently ignores Washington’s unwillingness to meet Pyongyang partway. To some, it seemed that negotiating with Iran and North Korea at the same time was more than the traffic could bear, but compared to the heat for dealing with Iran, fanned by Israel and Saudi Arabia, opposition to negotiating with Pyongyang is tepid. Perhaps worse than what Washington was reluctant to do was what it was all too willing to say. In an interview with YouTube posted on January 22, President Obama observed, “The kind of authoritarianism that exists there, you almost can’t duplicate anywhere else. It’s brutal and it’s oppressive and as a consequence, the country can’t really even feed its own people … . Over time, you will see a regime like this collapse.” He acknowledged, however, that “the answer is not going to be a military solution,” adding, “We will keep on ratcheting the pressure, but part of what’s happening is that the environment that we’re speaking in today, the Internet, over time is going to be penetrating this country.” He went on, “And it is very hard to sustain that kind of brutal authoritarian regime in this modern world. Information ends up seeping in over time and bringing about change, and that’s something that we are constantly looking for ways to accelerate.” [emphasis added]. In a January 25 rebuttal, the DPRK Foreign Ministry spokesman did not miss the gist of the president’s remarks, “This is little short of admitting himself that the U.S. lacks ability to stifle the DPRK and that a military option is not workable.” At a May 18 press conference in Seoul, Secretary of State John Kerry chimed in with less diplomatic rhetoric of his own. “The world is hearing increasingly more and more stories of grotesque, grisly, horrendous, public displays of executions on a whim and fancy by the leader against people who were close to him, sometimes on the flimsiest of excuses,” he said. Calling the Kim regime “one of the most egregious examples of reckless disregard for human rights and human beings anywhere on the planet,” he said, “If their horrific conduct continues, it is hard to see how that referral to the criminal court would not take place.” He added, “That is why it is important for us to ramp up international pressure on North Korea to change its behavior,” citing China’s “extraordinary leverage.” Almost lost in the nastiness, Kerry noted, “We offer the possibilities of a normal relationship with normal economic assistance and other kinds of engagement with the rest of the world if he will simply make the decision to come to the table and deal on the issue of his nuclear program.” Such rhetoric from top officials was hardly conducive to bringing the North to the negotiating table. While not nearly as vituperative as Pyongyang’s anti-U.S. diatribes, it stands in sharp contrast to how respectfully Obama and Kerry talk in public about Iran and its leadership. Could negotiations this year have succeeded in heading off further nuclear arming by Pyongyang? Everyone in Washington seems to have an opinion, but no one knows—except Kim Jong-un, and he’s not talking any more. Now talk of ratcheting up the pressure and waiting for the North to collapse is all the rage in Washington. That’s like whistling past the graveyard. Better to hope that Pyongyang’s tests fail and look for another opening to negotiate.” (Leon V. Sigal, “Wake up America: North Korea Is Running out of Patience,” The National Interest, June 16, 2015)


6/17/15:
JCS chairman, Adm. Choi Yun-hee, while visiting a front-line Army unit in Hwacheon, Gangwon Province, two days after a North Korean soldier defected to the South after crossing the military demarcation line in the region, said, “It is necessary to make every effort to maintain full readiness by effectively managing guard troops and border defense equipment,” noting the high probability “of North Koreans’ border intrusions or defections through the region by making use of the thick woods and heavy fog.” Public criticism has mounted over the latest defection case, as the 19-year-old North Korean private was found to have stayed overnight near a South Korean guard post inside the Demilitarized Zone before being caught. The chairman also urged the troops to respond to any provocations by the communist country “in a swift, precise and perfect fashion,” pointing to high possibilities for the bellicose regime to launch “surprise attacks.” Choi stated, “North Korea has heightened tensions near the border areas and the Northern Limit Line to break through unfavorable internal and external conditions.” According to the JCS data, North Korean patrol boats have crossed the NLL, the de facto inter-Korean sea border in the Yellow Sea, four times this month alone. (Yonhap, “JCS Chairman Orders Full Readiness against N.K. Provocations,” June 17, 2015)

38North: “Recent commercial satellite imagery indicates that North Korea has initiated new construction at its still incomplete experimental light water reactor (ELWR) at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center. Imagery from May 24, 2015 shows Pyongyang is building a structure probably intended to support transformers and power distribution equipment for the production of electricity. Nearby power lines can be extended to the building once it is completed, allowing the North to begin reactor operations when ready. It remains unclear, however, whether any other additional work needs to be completed before the North can start reactor operations. The May 24 imagery also indicates that the 5 MWe Reactor, which appears to have been experiencing operating difficulties since fall 2014, was either operating at low power levels or not at all on that day. Finally, imagery indicates the possible presence of new hot cells to be used for the remote handling of radioactive material for civilian or military purposes at a building under construction near the Yongbyon Uranium Enrichment complex. Five adjoining, still incomplete, thick-walled rooms at ground level, visible at one end of the structure, appear to be hot cells under construction, although it is too early to reach a conclusion as to their purpose. …Construction activity observed on satellite imagery from May 24, 2015 indicates that electrical equipment is probably being installed and a building constructed using a large mobile crane. The structure appears intended to support transformers and power distribution equipment for the production of electric power, the stated purpose of the ELWR. Once this construction project is complete, power lines can be extended into the transformer yard/building allowing the North to begin reactor operations when ready. It remains unclear, however, whether any other additional work needs to be completed before the North can start reactor operations.” (William Mugford, “Update on North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Facility,” 38North, June 17, 2017)


6/18/15:
North Korea has been hit by its worst drought in a century, state media say, raising fears of another looming food crisis in the impoverished communist country. The drought has devastated agricultural land in Hwanghae and Pyongan provinces, KCNA said, noting that more than 30 per cent of rice paddies across the country were “parching up.” “The worst drought in 100 years continues in the DPRK, causing great damage,” the KCNA said. “The water level of reservoirs stands at the lowest, while rivers and streams [are] getting dry.” Last week Seoul’s unification ministry estimated that North Korea’s crop output could fall by up to 20 per cent this year if the drought continues until next month. Rainfall hit a 15-year low last year, 40 per cent below the average rainfall between 1981 and 2010, the ministry said. The World Food Program, the UN food agency, is preparing to send emergency assistance if the situation deteriorates. The UN has said that chronic food shortages have left about a third of North Korean children stunted because of malnutrition, with two-thirds of the population enduring “chronic food insecurity.” But international funding for North Korean aid is drying up, held back by concerns over its nuclear ambitions and Pyongyang’s restriction of aid workers’ access to the needy. The UN called in April for $111m to fund crucial humanitarian needs in North Korea this year, with funding for its agencies in North Korea falling from $300m in 2004 to less than $50m in 2014. However, food security is not as precarious as in previous droughts, analysts say, with private farming playing a growing role in the country’s economy. New farming rules allow North Koreans to run small family farms and keep surplus crops, while markets have sprung up nationwide fuelled by such surplus income. “About 400,000-500,000 tonnes of food shortages are expected this year due to the drought,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “But the food shortages are not likely to be as severe as those of the 1990s because North Koreans are reacting to it more resiliently, with more private farming allowed.” (Song Jung-a, “North Korea Drought Prompts Food Crisis Fears,” Financial Times, June 18, 2015, p. 3)

South Korea’s ruling party-controlled legislature approved President Park Geun-hye’s choice for prime minister, Hwang Kyo-ahn, by a vote of 156-120, ending a lengthy merry-go-round at the country’s No. 2 job caused by political wrangling and corruption scandals. Hwang has been the country’s justice minister. He successfully petitioned the country’s constitutional court last year to disband a small leftist party accused of pro-North Korea views, a decision critics said exposed the limits of freedom of expression in a nation once ruled by military dictators. (Associated Press, “South Korean Lawmakers Approve New Premier,” June 18, 2015)


6/22/15:
The leaders of South Korea and Japan both called for progress in the two countries’ fraught relations, and a new era of cooperation as they marked the 50th anniversary of the normalization of bilateral ties. Their remarks, focusing on forging a future-oriented partnership, are expected to create much-needed momentum in improving relations, which have been strained amid escalating historical and territorial feuds. At a commemorative event arranged by the Japanese Embassy in Seoul to mark the anniversary, South Korean President Park Geun-hye said it was time to “put down the heavy burden of history with the spirits of reconciliation and coexistence.” “This year, which marks the 50th anniversary of the normalization of bilateral ties, is a historical opportunity. We should make it a turning point for South Korea and Japan to move forward toward a future of new cooperation. This is also our obligation for future generations,” she said. “Our governments should unite the minds of the two countries, and cooperate on the issues that require bilateral cooperation.” The same message was delivered to an anniversary event arranged in Tokyo by the South Korean Embassy there. The message was read out by Seoul’s Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se who arrived in Japan yesterday for talks with his counterpart Kishida Fumio and to attend the event. Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo attended the anniversary event in Tokyo, urging Seoul to open another 50 years of cooperative relations. “Let’s look back on the 50 years of the development of our friendship, look ahead into the next 50 years and hold our hands together to open a new era,” he said, stressing that South Korea and Japan are the “most important neighbors” to ensure regional peace and stability. “The two countries cooperating to tackle regional and global tasks, and cooperating globally would lead to an establishment of new bilateral relations. (I) will join forces with President Park Geun-hye (to evolve the relations).” Reflecting the deterioration in bilateral relations, Park and Abe have yet to hold a summit. They met for a trilateral summit, arranged by U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, the Netherlands in March 2014. (Song Sang-ho, “Park, Abe Stress Forward-Looking Partnership,” Korea Herald, June 22, 2015)


6/23/15:
President Park Geun-hye called for increased civilian exchanges with North Korea as part of efforts to lay the groundwork for a peaceful unification with the North. She made the comment in a meeting with members of the National Unification Advisory Council, the presidential advisory body on unification. The comment came a week after civic groups from South and North Korea failed to hold a joint ceremony to mark the 15th anniversary of the first inter-Korean summit. (Yonhap, “Park Calls for Increased Civilian Exchanges with N. Korea,” June 23, 2015)

North Korea sentenced two South Koreans detained there, Kim Kuk-gi and Choe Chun-gil, to hard labor for life for spying for the South’s intelligence agency, Korean Central Broadcasting Station reported, in a move seen as dampening the strained inter-Korean ties. The North’s supreme court held a court session for the two South Koreans who were arrested for suspected spying for the United States and the South,” it said. “Kim and Choe were sentenced to hard labor for life on charges of spying.” Two other South Koreans detained in North Korea are missionary Kim Jung-wook and Joo Won-moon, a 21-year-old South Korean student with a U.S. green card. The North’s announcement came as the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights opened its office in Seoul, which will be tasked with monitoring the human rights situation in the North. North Korea has threatened to retaliate against South Korea over the U.N.’s move to open the field office, saying it will “mercilessly punish” South Korea by mobilizing all means possible. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Sentences 2 S. Korean Detainees to Life Terms,” June 23, 2015)

DPRK FoMin spokesman’s statement: “The dishonest hostile forces are getting extremely reckless and provocative in their moves to tarnish the dignity and image of the DPRK and bring down its ideology and social system at any cost under the pretext of non-existent “human rights issue.” The hostile forces finally set up the ghost-like “UN office of human rights” in south Korea despite the DPRK’s repeated warnings and strong protest of different countries and their people. This is a hideous politically-motivated provocation challenging the dignity and social system of the DPRK and a criminal act of escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula and in the region and inciting confrontation under the pretext of “protecting human rights.” The hostile forces are advertising the establishment of the “office” was pursuant to the “resolution” of the UN Human Rights Council but they can never cover up their true colors as plot-breeders. The DPRK categorically opposed and rejected the “human rights resolution” railroaded through the 25th meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in March last year as it was a product of the U.S. vicious hostile policy toward the DPRK. The DPRK, therefore, never recognizes the “office” set up, pursuant to the “resolution.” The DPRK vehemently condemns the ruckus of setting up the “office” in Seoul as another form of the anti-DPRK “human rights” campaign launched by the hostile forces seized with the inveterate repugnance towards the DPRK The south Korean puppet authorities have turned south Korea into a tundra of human rights by invoking the “Security Law” and other evil laws. It is the height of impudence for them to have taken the lead in setting up such “office”, talking volumes about the “human rights issue” in the DPRK. They allowed the setting up of the “office” in Seoul though no country in the world dared do so. This is an anachronistic behavior and a grave provocation pushing the inter-Korean confrontation to an extreme phase contrary to the desire of all Koreans for improved inter-Korean relations. It is as clear as noonday that the “office” is no more than a center for gathering misinformation cooked up by “defectors from the north” and other riff-raffs to earn money as it is set to implement the U.S. hostile policy towards the DPRK from A to Z. It is ridiculous, indeed, for the U.S. and other hostile forces to work hard to save the anti-DPRK “human rights” campaign from bankruptcy by patronizing the human scum who eke out their living through false propaganda. It is no more than a daydream for them to try to do harm to the DPRK standing highly dignified for its independence and Songun by employing such base means and methods as setting up the “office.” The DPRK will decisively foil the reckless “human rights” racket against the DPRK through resolute toughest counteractions.” (KCNA, “DPRK FM Spokesman Accuses Hostile Forces of Setting up Anti-DPRK ‘Human Rights Office,’” June 23, 2015)

The U.S. strategic commander reaffirmed his commitment to strong deterrence against potential threats by North Korea. Adm. Cecil Haney, who leads the U.S. Strategic Command, made the remarks while in Seoul for a four-day trip starting Sunday at a time when tensions remain heightened on the Korean Peninsula over North Korea’s continued provocative actions. Haney’s trip here is part of his visit to the Asia-Pacific region, which also includes stops in Hawaii, Japan and Alaska. The visit to South Korea serves as “the opportunity to continue strengthening partnerships and our alliance by discussing topics of mutual interest, including strategic deterrence,” Haney said in an email interview with Yonhap. The commander, however, refused to comment on his assessment about the situation in North Korea and its capabilities, as well as the potential deployment of the advanced U.S. missile defense system, the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery, on the Korean Peninsula. In a meeting between Haney and the chairman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Choi Yun-hee, they “assessed a wide range of threats by North Korea, including its nuclear and missile programs and cyberattacks,” reaffirming the importance of the Seoul-Washington alliance for regional peace and stability, the JCS said in a statement. The focus of the talks was “the discussions about how to effectively respond to them by deploying the U.S. assets in emergency cases,” the statement said without further elaboration. Officials at the JCS refused to specify on what kinds of U.S. assets would be deployed to the peninsula to deter and counter the communist North, while noting that the THAAD issue was not on the table for the meeting between Choi and Haney. (Yonhap, “U.S. Strategic Commander Vows Strong Deterrence against N. Korea,” June 23, 2015)


6/25/15:
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party demanded that the government tighten sanctions on North Korea to prod it to provide information as soon as possible about Japanese nationals abducted by the North decades ago. The LDP Headquarters for North Korean Abductions called for reinstating sanctions the government lifted in July last year. The LDP group also requested the government impose new sanctions such as banning remittances to North Korea, except those up to 100,000 yen ($809) sent for humanitarian purposes, among other punitive measures. (Kyodo, “LDP Calls for Tighter Sanctions on N. Korea,” June 25, 2015)

The US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has claimed that Terminal High Altitude Aerial Defense (THAAD) interceptors have demonstrated effectiveness against short- and medium-range targets, announcing that in nine flight tests so far, THAAD intercepted all 10 target ballistic missiles. However, the tests were conducted under circumstances that provide little, if any, information about how the THAAD interceptors would actually perform in real combat. Theodore Postol, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and George Lewis, a senior researcher at the Cornell University Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, have raised questions about the MDA’s performance claims, based on three main factors. First, North Korean ballistic missiles could fly in irregular and unstable ways on the way to targets. Due to their design, these missiles could well tumble at high altitudes and spiral at lower altitudes, as was observed in the Gulf War of 1991, and almost certainly led to the complete failure of Patriot interceptors to destroy even a single SCUD warhead in combat. Patriot interceptor tests prior to the Gulf War were successful in 17 of 17 tests. In Gulf War combat, the Patriot was almost certainly 0 for 44, defined as destruction of SCUD warheads. Missiles tumbled in the Gulf War due to random lateral forces from rocket motors as they shut down. The motors shut down at high altitudes where the air was so thin that the fins at the back of the missiles could not prevent the tumbling. In effect these missiles acted in flight like arrows that had no feathers. When fired from a bow, they simply tumble end over end. The low-altitude spiraling phenomena could be made intentionally by modifying the fins at the backend of missiles. Tumbling at high-altitudes happen intentionally with tiny rocket motors attached to the back of the missile that are fired as soon as the rocket’s main motor shuts down. In addition, when the missiles reenter the atmosphere, they could be affected by aerodynamic forces. As shown in the case of Al Hussein Scud during 1991 Gulf War, if the warhead is too light to force the missile to maintain a stable orientation, lateral aerodynamic lift forces are generated that cause it to move laterally, tracing out a spiraling trajectory. The two scholars pointed out that a target following a spiraling trajectory is the most difficult target to hit. According to their analysis, it is estimated that in the case of North Korean Scud B, the THAAD interceptor would have to be launched while the missile is still at an altitude of 60 to 70 km, where the tumbling phenomenon could occur. The spiraling movement could occur at an altitude of 10 to 20 km. In the case of Scud C, if it reenters the atmosphere in a side-on orientation it will likely remain intact until it reaches an altitude of roughly 30 km, where it will break up due to the increase in aerodynamic forces, the two scholars said. If it reenters the atmosphere oriented nose-on relative to its velocity vector, it will disintegrate at about 10 to 12km. Both of these altitudes are below the THAAD minimum intercept altitude, they said. Secondly, the US missile defense systems including THAAD are limited in their capability to discriminate between the real warheads and decoys. It is because the radars and infrared sensors could tell only the exterior properties of missiles in space such as shape and brightness. Potential enemies could undermine the radars and sensors’ ability to differentiate between the warheads and decoys by conducting countermeasures including cutting a missile into many pieces using explosive cutting cords. The explosive cutting cord, which is a piece of rope manufactured from strands of high explosives, could intentionally cut the missiles into tens of fragments. If the shape of these fragments is similar to the real warheads, it is difficult to determine which one is the real warhead. These fundamental constraints could be applied when the THAAD intercepts the Nodong missiles. Since THAAD interceptor would have to be launched while the complex of incoming objects is at an altitude of 105 km or higher, the effects of the atmosphere causing the lighter objects to slow up will be minimal, two scholars said. Hence, when the THAAD interceptor needs to be launched, there will be no way for the THAAD system to determine which of the many incoming objects would be the warhead, they said. Proponents of missile defense systems believe that they could succeed in discriminating between the warheads and decoys by conducting more research and development in the future. However, Dr. Postol argued, “Research aimed at exploiting physical phenomena that do not exist can never produce anything but nonsense.” He said, “In effect, radars and infrared sensors see the exterior properties of objects in space. Those exterior properties can easily be manipulated so that it is fundamentally impossible to know what is beneath the exterior.” Thirdly, if the THAAD systems succeed to intercept the North Korean missiles, it must hit and destroy the front end of target-missiles exactly. However, it would be daunting challenge. The THAAD interceptor would have difficulty in homing on the part of warhead at the front of missile. For instance, in the test of SM-3 took place on July 30, 2009, the infrared sensor failed to determine where the warhead is, even two seconds prior to impact. Postol highlighted an important difference between destroying attacking aircraft and attacking missiles. He said, “Anywhere an antiaircraft interceptor hits an airplane will likely result in either the destruction of the airplane and loss of its pilot or the inability of the aircraft to complete its mission. This means that relatively low levels of damaging against an aircraft will result in a successful outcome for the antiaircraft defense. In contrast, a ballistic missile can be heavily damaged and still succeed in its mission — delivering a warhead into the area under attack.” He also warned, “Nuclear warheads that fly on ballistic missiles are by design very rugged. If the THAAD interceptor were to hit any part of the incoming Nodong other than the front end, the warhead could be expected to fall to the ground and detonate.” Two scholars pointed out that most of Patriot missiles failed to hit the warhead of Iraqi Scud missiles during the Gulf War of 1991 and also SM-3 succeeded in hitting the warhead only one to two times of ten tests that they analyzed in 2009, all of which were done under exactly the same intercept conditions. The analysis on the intercept tests of THAAD is not available because their detailed results were not disclosed to the public. The point is that North Korea is capable of developing countermeasures to avoid the THAAD interceptors. The two scholars argued that North Koreas has it well within their ability to make such countermeasures as tumbling and cutting into fragments. In particular, the technology of explosive cutting cord was demonstrated when they launched both the Taepodong-1 and the Taepodong-2 long-range ballistic missiles. But most high-level decision-makers in the US and South Korea are not familiar with the technological details of these systems. (Park Hyun, “U.S. Experts Question THAAD’s Ability to Intercept North Korean Missiles,” Hankyore, June 25, 2015)

In the middle of last year, the residents of Pyongyang began to notice a new fleet of taxis operating in the North Korean capital. With their maroon and gold bodywork, the gleaming sedans were easy to spot as they cruised the city’s orderly streets. The cars bore the taxi company’s logo: KKG. The swiftness with which KKG edged out rival taxi operators — one of which was rumoured to be linked to the security services — piqued curiosity about who was behind the new outfit. The same logo has been spotted on 4x4s, on a billboard displaying a planned riverside property development and on buses at Pyongyang airport. Like other North Korean cabbies, the drivers of the KKG taxis asked their fares to pay in foreign currency: mainly Chinese renminbi, but also euros or dollars. And therein lay a clue. But the KKG cabs are just a small part of a much larger endeavor. The KKG taxi fleet is one product of a partnership between a group of Hong Kong-based investors and a secretive arm of the North Korean state that seeks to cut international business deals, a Financial Times investigation has found. The North Korean government’s alliance with the so-called Queensway Group, a syndicate of businesspeople with a record of forging ties with pariah states, is opaque. But it seems clear that it is one of a handful of crucial business ventures that allow the world’s most isolated regime to sustain itself. “KKG is one of several joint ventures in North Korea and it’s one of the biggest ones,” says an Asian official who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter. “Most North Korean companies are under US or EU or UN sanctions. They always change names, like their ships change flags. But most of the companies belong to military leaders or the ruling Workers’ party of Korea. And they are on the sanctions list. So they need any foreign company that could give them an opportunity to trade with foreign countries.” The domestic economy has either contracted or grown at 1 per cent in recent years, according to South Korean government estimates based on limited data, with annual exports of about $3bn falling well short of the import bill. As prices for the coal and other commodities that North Korea exports to China fall, business networks such as the one behind KKG are likely to become increasingly vital in garnering crucial foreign exchange for the regime. The North Korean end of the KKG network leads to a shadowy organization called Office 39 of the Workers’ party, according to Asian and US officials. The US has described Office 39 as “a secretive branch of the government . . . that provides critical support to [the] North Korean leadership in part through engaging in illicit economic activities and managing slush funds, and generating revenues for the leadership.” The EU says Office 39 reported directly to Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s ruler from 1994 until his death in 2011, when his son, Kim Jong-un, took over. Office 39 is “among the most important organizations assigned with currency and merchandise acquisition”, the EU says. The US and the EU also imposed sanctions on what they said were Office 39 front companies. One, which is known as Korea Daesong General Trading Corporation and several similar names, “is used to facilitate foreign transactions on behalf of Office 39”, the US Treasury said. The company did not respond to a request for comment. The EU describes it as part of the broader Daesong group, “the largest company group of the country.” According to the Asian official and J.R. Mailey, a researcher at the Pentagon’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies, Daesong is one of the backers behind KKG. Another, according to these people and court documents from Hong Kong, is the business network known informally to those who have studied it as Queensway Group, after the address of its headquarters at 88 Queensway in Hong Kong’s financial district. Over the past decade, the Queensway Group has built a multi-billion-dollar corporate empire that stretches from Zimbabwe to Manhattan. The precise nature of the KKG partnership is unclear — whether it is an incorporated joint venture or a more informal arrangement. Searches by the FT yielded no records for a company called KKG that matched the profile of the one active in North Korea. Nor did searches in English and Korean for Kumgang Economic Development Corporation, KKG’s name when written in Korean characters. That suggests that KKG is either simply a brand, or, if it is a company, it is registered within North Korea, which does not keep company records online. The FT was unable to find contact details for KKG. The relationship between KKG’s backers was formed around the end of 2006. According to the Asian official, details of whose account were corroborated by others, the Queensway Group’s foray into North Korea was spearheaded by the frontman who has advanced its interests in Africa and elsewhere. He goes by at least seven names — but is best known as Sam Pa. An FT investigation last year found that Pa and his fellow founders of the Queensway Group have connections to powerful interests in Beijing, including Chinese intelligence and state-owned companies. They also have ties to big western groups: Queensway Group companies are in business with BP in Angola, Glencore in Guinea and others. Pa did not respond to requests for comment. Only one of the Queensway Group figures and companies contacted for comment replied. Jee Kin Wee, group head of legal at China Sonangol’s arm in Singapore, says his company and KKG “are separate and unrelated companies”. He did not clarify the link between his company in Singapore and its sister company, China Sonangol International Holding, registered at the Queensway address in Hong Kong. That company is jointly owned by Pa’s business associates and Angola’s state oil group. It is named in Hong Kong court documents as having made payments related to KKG projects. Wee did not answer specific questions about the Queensway Group’s dealings in North Korea. But he stressed that “China enjoys full diplomatic and economic relations with North Korea and . . . scores of countries around the world, including EU countries, have bilateral diplomatic relations with North Korea.” Pa is said to have met senior North Korean officials as he began his courtship of the regime in 2006. At the time, Pyongyang needed new partners. It had found itself increasingly locked out of the global financial system. A year earlier, the US had accused Macau-based Banco Delta Asia of laundering money for the regime, causing the near-collapse of that bank and prompting others to avoid North Korea. Pa struck a deal with Daesong for an eclectic range of North Korean projects, the Asian official says, ranging from power plants to mining to fisheries. Money started to flow — although it is unclear how much flowed directly into North Korea. A ledger published in a 2013 Hong Kong high court ruling in a dispute between some of Mr Pa’s business associates refers to Queensway Group payments including “Pyongyang city bus system”, “Korea airport”, “Korea: 5,000 tons of soyabean oil” and “exhibition sponsored by the Korean consul”. There are no further details. But the list of payments also contains references to KKG. Some who have observed Queensway’s thrust into North Korea say it is seeking to replicate a model it pioneered in Africa: striking infrastructure-for-natural resources deals with oppressive governments such as Angola’s, Zimbabwe’s and a military junta that briefly ruled Guinea. The group appears to have set its sights on North Korea’s untapped potential for oil. Mailey, who was one of the authors of a 2009 US congressional report who recently published a second detailed study of the group, says: “The KKG taxis might earn the regime some foreign currency from tourists visiting Pyongyang, but most signs point to the oil and mining sectors as the Queensway Group’s true target.” A 2009 report by the UK’s Chatham House think-tank said Queensway’s China Sonangol in 2007 lined up a Chinese state-owned group to carry out seismic explorations on two oil prospects in North Korea. A China Sonangol jet was spotted in Pyongyang in 2013. Like the taxi venture and the Pyongyang property project, the search for oil appears to be taking place at least in part via KKG, the Queensway partnership with Office 39. According to the Asian official and an oil industry insider familiar with North Korea, KKG has looked for oil in several parts of the country, so far without success. In November 2013, North Korean state television broadcast footage of an event in the city of Kaesong, close to the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea established in 1953. Dignitaries hailed the start of work on a “high-tech industrial park”. According to state media, the park was to house an information technology center, a hotel, houses, a school and a power plant.

One of the speakers was a man in a dark suit with a neat haircut, identified by local media as Jang Su Nam. He is described as the representative of the “Peace and Economy Development Group.” Mailey says Jang once worked for Daesong. Jang could not be reached for comment. The camera panned across the other honoured guests. Among them was Lo Fong-hung, a petite Chinese businesswoman. According to interviews and court documents, she is Pa’s principal business partner in the Queensway Group. Also present were ambassadors from African countries where the Queensway Group has interests. Standing beside them was Nik Zuks, the Australian founder of a London-listed miner of west African iron ore called Bellzone, in which China Sonangol has built a majority stake. Neither Lo nor Zuks responded to requests for comment. Pa was not present for the groundbreaking ceremony. But since Kim assumed the leadership in 2011, Pa appears to have maintained his relationship with North Korea’s regime. According to the Asian official, Mr Pa visited Pyongyang as recently as December and sent the North Korean leader a personal birthday letter in January. The pair have something else in common apart from an urge to do business: Mr Pa was placed under US sanctions last year in relation to his dealings in Zimbabwe, where he has been accused of funding Robert Mugabe’s secret police in exchange for rights to trade diamonds. Mr Pa has called the allegations “baseless.” “Sam Pa’s role is to be a window for the Pyongyang regime to capitalist markets,” the Asian official says. “I think his future is bright in that regard.” (Tom Burgis, “The Secrets of Office 39,” Financial Times, June 25, 2015, p. 5, and “North Korea behind Global Network of Businesses,” Financial Times, June 25, 2015, p. 1)


6/25/15:
NDC statement: “65 years since the U.S. imperialists ignited a war of aggression on this land. Many generations have replaced by others and the era has also changed but fragile state of ceasefire which is neither war nor peace persists on the Korean peninsula, the statement said, adding the U.S. imperialists’ war moves have become serious by the minute. Far back in the 1950s when the Cold War started, the U.S. launched the war with an intention to wipe out the DPRK after setting it as target “A” in the secret “War Plan A,B,C” and then to stretch the tentacles of aggression to the vast areas of China and the former Soviet Union, targets “B” and “C.” The U.S. ambition still lingers on the Korean peninsula as a ghost of aggression and war. This is reflected in the U.S. hostile policy toward the DPRK, war acts pursuant to it and strategic move for laying a siege to the Asian continent. The U.S. design to politically isolate and stifle the DPRK has reached extremity pursuant to the strategy. Far from drawing a lesson from the defeat in the war in the 1950s, the U.S. has intensified isolation, blockade and suffocation of the DPRK in a bid to ignite the second Korean war. As the U.S. imperialists’ moves have reached a serious phase that can no longer be overlooked, the NDC of the DPRK said as follows: We state to the world that the army and people of the DPRK will launch a nationwide anti-U.S. struggle on a new higher stage to foil the U.S. imperialists’ hostile policy toward the DPRK and their unprecedented moves to isolate and stifle it. June 25 indicts the U.S. imperialists for their ferocity, cruelty and barbarity and makes the army and people of the DPRK to give vent to the pent-up wrath and hatred. What matters is that the U.S. imperialists are working with bloodshot eyes to make the past crime-woven history repeat itself by igniting another war, far from apologizing with their knees bent for their thrice-cursed crimes. The U.S. is bracing for a nuclear war and even a modern germ warfare to exterminate the Korean people. The new stage of the anti-U.S. struggle will lead to a just confrontation for ending the long history of the DPRK-U.S. stand-off for the victory of the DPRK. 2. The U.S. should, though belatedly, repeal its hostile policy toward the DPRK that can never come true, and raise a white flag before history and the Korean people. The army and people of the DPRK are not what they used to be in the past when they had no state, being under the jackboots of outsiders as they had not enough rifles and swords. The U.S. had better face up to the reality and stop running amuck. It would be the best policy for it to immediately repeal its desperate hostile policy toward the DPRK. It has to withdraw the war scenario targeting the DPRK and stop the reckless nuclear war racket which it has kicked up on the land and in the sea and air. The U.S. had better look back with a cool head what its hostile policy toward the DPRK has entailed. It should pay heed to the warning of the DPRK that it is ready for a conventional war, nuclear war and cyber warfare. The only way for the U.S. to take is to make apology before the army and people of the DPRK and hoist a white flag. 3. We appeal to the world to turn out in the worldwide anti-U.S. struggle to dismember the gangster U.S. imperialists. The U.S. is the most shameless chieftain of aggression and war and ill-famed architect of provocation and destruction. It is not time to get afraid of the U.S. bluffing, blindly add voice to the U.S. unreasonable and brigandish sophism and dance to the tune of the U.S. acts of destruction and disturbance. It is still not time to take to flunkeyism and submit to the U.S. to echo whatever it says. Whoever truly hopes for global peace and regional stability has to set right at an early date the dangerous situation on this planet plagued with bloodshed, disputes and upheavals by the U.S. imperialists. Asia should turn out to cut off the U.S. right hand, Africa should rise up to cut off the U.S. left land, the Mid-east has to cut off the U.S. ankles and Europe has to cut off the U.S. neck. The whole world has to pool efforts to dismember the fatty monster U.S. imperialists. The U.S. is just like a paper tiger easy to be crushed and set on fire. Whoever truly wishes for durable peace in the world, welfare of humankind and lasting security of posterity has to turn out in the anti-U.S. struggle in high spirits. The DPRK will invariably stand in the van of the worldwide just struggle against the U.S. to build a peaceful world and defend genuine life of humankind.” (KCNA, “DPRK NDC Statement Blasts U.S. War Moves,” June 25, 2015)


6/26/15:
DPRK FoMin spokesman “answer to a question put by KCNA condemning the U.S. Department of State for slandering the dignified DPRK once again in its “annual report on human rights”: The assistant secretary of the U.S. State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in a special press conference on June 25 talked about “change”, malignantly taking issue with the DPRK over its “human rights issue.” He revealed once again the U.S. sinister attempt to carry out its ambition for bringing down the Korean-style socialist system centered on the popular masses at any cost under the pretext of “protecting human rights.” The U.S. is dreaming a foolish dream that any “change” may take place in the DPRK, no more than jargon provoking a side-splitting laughter. But it will only see the DPRK’s military muscle increasing in every way and its people enjoying a happy life under socialism. Now that the U.S. persists in the hostile policy toward the DPRK, it will take tougher countermeasures. The world will clearly see how the DPRK will smash the U.S. moves for isolating and stifling it.” (KCNA, “U.S. Moves against DPRK Censured: DPRK FM Spokesman,” June 26, 2015)

North Korea is suspected of having provided Iran with engine components for ballistic missiles, violating a U.N. ban on activities related to such weapons, a diplomatic source familiar with North Korean matters said. The source said it is likely North Korea has already begun disassembling more than 10 engines and has shipped some of the parts to Iran, prompting the United States and other Middle Eastern countries to step up relevant surveillance. (Inoue Tomotaro, “N. Korea Suspected of Providing Iran with Missile Components,” Kyodo, June 26, 2015)


6/29/15:
Ambassador Sung Kim held closed-door meetings with Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Hong-kyun and Hwang Joon-kook, special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, while visiting the country to participate in an international forum on Korean reunification. “We discussed a broad range of issues, bilateral issues and our coordination on North Korea,” he said as he left the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after the meetings. A South Korean official said the two sides reaffirmed their policy to push for talks with North Korea without any preconditions. (Yonhap, “S. Korean, U.S. Nuclear Envoys Discuss N. Korea,” June 29, 2015)


6/30/15:
Lee Hee-ho, the widow of former President Kim Dae-jung will likely visit North Korea next month and meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, an informed source said June 26. “North Korea has proposed a meeting next Tuesday in Kaesong regarding Lee’s possible visit to North Korea in response to our call for talks last week,” said Kim Sung-jae, an official of the Kim Dae-jung Peace Center, citing the border town in the North. “Today, we submitted a document to win the government’s approval for the visit to Keasong,” he said, noting some five officials from the South are to meet with five North Korean counterparts to arrange her schedule. She is expected to visit Pyongyang as early as next month and no later than Aug. 15, the official said, adding other details will be fixed during the next week’s meeting. (Yonhap, “Ex-S. Korean First Lady Plans to Visit N. Korea Next Month,” July 26, 2015) Aides to late former President Kim Dae-jung visited North Korea on June 30 for talks on a proposed trip there by Kim’s widow but returned home without finalizing a specific date. Lee Hee-ho, who was the South’s first lady during Kim’s five-year tenure till 2003, is seeking to visit the communist nation as early as next month for humanitarian purposes, a move that may help ease tension on the divided peninsula. Five representatives from the Kim Dae-jung Peace Center returned home in the afternoon after visiting the North’s border city of Kaesong to discuss the logistics and other details of Lee’s trip, according to the center. Kim Sung-jae, a former culture minister, said that as the two sides have not set a specific date for Lee’s visit, they’ve agreed to have additional talks for fine-tuning her itinerary. “We delivered to the North the ex-first lady’s hope to visit the North inrelations.” If her visit is realized, it is widely expected to help improve the strained inter-Korean ties amid prospects that she may meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, experts said. (Yonhap, “Two Koreas Meet over Ex-First Lady’s Proposed NK Visit,” June 30, 2015)


7/1/15:
Nearly 1,400 North Koreans were executed under the Kim Jong-un regime from 2008 to 2014, according to a report released by the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU). The 455-page report, “White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea 2015,” showed that 1,382 were killed during the period. KINU said its findings were based on the testimony of 221 people who defected from North Korea to South Korea in 2014. It added the witnesses were chosen based on their social backgrounds and demographic characteristics. “We believe there were a number of executions that were not witnessed by those whom we interviewed,” an official at KINU’s strategy and public relations team said. (Yi Whan-woo, “N.K. Executes Nearly1,400 from 2008 to 2014,” Korea Times, July 1, 2015)


7/2/15:
North Korea has built five long-range 122-mm artillery positions on an uninhabited island just 4.5 km away from South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island. A senior military officer on Wednesday said North Korea started to build the artillery positions in March on an island called Galdo. Surveillance also shows one command tower and three barracks on the island, he added. The military here believes North Korean troops will move to Galdo between July and August. The North apparently built a port and mooring facilities on the island as well. (Chosun Ilbo, “N. Korea Builds Artillery Base on West Sea Island,” July 2, 2015)


7/3/15:
North Korea has informed Japan that it will postpone its report on the investigation into Japanese abductees that it launched a year ago, the government said. “We are sincerely conducting a comprehensive investigation, but it will take a little more time,” the government quoted Pyongyang as saying. The government criticized North Korea for the delay. Prime Minister Abe Shinzo instructed Foreign Minister KishidaFumio and Yamatani Eriko, minister in charge of the abduction issue, to step up efforts to urge Pyongyang to promptly report the results of its investigation. Kishida, Yamatani and Chief Cabinet Secretary SugaYoshihide announced North Korea’s notice of the postponement at a press conference and elsewhere this morning. Pyongyang informed Japan of the delay via diplomatic channels in Beijing last night. Last July 4, North Korea purportedly set up the Special Investigation Committee and launched an investigation into all Japanese nationals in North Korea, including Japanese abductees, missing Japanese nationals and Japanese spouses. Pyongyang also said it would investigate the remains and graves of Japanese nationals who died in North Korea around the end of World War II, and end the overall probe in about a year. “It is extremely regrettable that the return of abduction victims to Japan has not been realized, even one year after the investigation started,” Abe said Friday morning at a meeting of the House of Representatives Special Committee on the Legislation for Peace and Security of Japan and the International Community. “We will step up efforts to urge North Korea to take concrete action immediately.” Abe said he has given relevant instructions to Kishida and Yamatani. “We’ll stick to the principles of ‘dialogue and pressure’ and ‘action for action’ and do all we can to realize the return of all abductees,” the prime minister said. (Yomiuri Shimbun, “N. Korea Puts off Report on Abductions; Govt. Sees Next Month as Absolute Deadline,” July 3, 2015)


7/6/15:
The widow of former President Kim Dae-jung, Lee Hee-ho, 93, plans to visit the communist country on August 5-8, arriving via plane, according to officials from the Kim Dae-jung Peace Center. The announcement came as five representatives from the center returned home earlier in the day after visiting the North’s border city of Kaesong to set the specifics for Lee’s trip. “We hope that Lee’s visit could serve as a good occasion to help improve inter-Korean relations and promote cooperation,” Kim Sung-jae, an official at the center, told reporters at a checkpoint near the inter-Korean border. Her itinerary includes a visit to a children’s hospital and a nursery facility in Pyongyang and Mt. Myohyang in North Pyongan Province, north of Pyongyang. (Kim Soo-yeon, “Ex-First Lady to Visit N. Korea in Early August,” Yonhap, July 6, 2015)

Melissa Hanham: “North Korea’s biological weapons program got a lot less secret on June 6, 2015. The same day that a defector reportedly fled the country carrying 15 GB of human testing data, North Korea’s state media published photos of Kim Jong-un touring a facility ostensibly for the production of pesticides. However analysis of the images reveals that the facility—the Pyongyang Bio-technical Institute—can produce regular, military-sized batches of biological weapons, specifically anthrax. The North Korean assertion that the plant is intended to produce insecticides is an old and well-used cover for a biological weapons program. In fact, it is not uncommon for biological weapons facilities to actually function as bio-insecticide plants. Iraq’s Al Hakam Factory produced both Bacillus anthracis—the causative agent of Anthrax—and Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)—a bacteria used in Bt bio-insecticide. The Soviet Union’s Progress Scientific and Production Association in Stepnogorsk, Kazakhstan, was tasked with producing bio-fertilizers in peacetime and biological weapons for war. The same could be true for the Pyongyang facility where the scientists can convert between civilian and military strains of bacteria, by simply sterilizing and resetting the equipment in a matter of days. The modern equipment seen in the images reveal that North Korea is not only maintaining a biological weapons capability, but also has an active large-scale sanctions busting effort to illicitly procure the equipment for the Pyongyang Bio-technical Institute. This effort runs counter to international treaties, regimes and national laws that aim to prevent the spread of biological weapons, the equipment and chemicals used to make them and their means of delivery. Much of the equipment seen in the Pyongyang Bio-technical Institute violates export control laws based on the dual-use control lists of the Australia Group (AG): 41 members—including the United States and the European Union (EU)—who agreed to control lists intended to prevent the spread of equipment for use in chemical or biological weapons programs. Even countries like China, which are not members of the Australia Group, maintain national export control regulations based on the Australia Group control lists. North Korea, as a member of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), is prohibited from biological weapons development, production and use. Any activities involving the trafficking of biological weapons, their means of delivery or related materials are also prohibited by UN Security Council Resolution 1718, adopted in 2006. Based on these images alone, it is not possible to determine that the North has violated its obligations under the BTWC or UNSCR 1718. Kim Jong-un’s visit to the plant may have been intended as a veiled threat to South Korea and the United States. The visit occurred days after news broke that the American military had mistakenly shipped live-anthrax to labs in nine US states as well as to the Osan Air Base in South Korea. The shipments appeared to most of the world as an embarrassing and dangerous mistake, but were viewed by the North Koreans as a threat. By June 1, KCNA was blasting the incident as secret “preparations for germ warfare against Koreans” and denounced it as a move toward “Biochemical War.” By June 12, North Korea requested a UN Security Council investigation of the United States. This reaction reflects Pyongyang’s long-standing accusations that the US intends to use biological weapons against the North dating back to the Korean War when it accused the Americans of conducting BW experiments on Koreans. Additional open-source research reveals that the Swiss branch of an international nongovernmental organization provided training and basic equipment to the North that may have inadvertently contributed to North Korea’s ability to produce BW. CABI, a group that runs agricultural aid programs around the world, established a pilot facility in 2005 at the Plant Protection Institute for the production of Bt bio-insecticide with funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and using Chinese equipment. Unfortunately, this pilot facility can also be operated to produce anthrax and was possibly a training ground in preparation for the construction and operation of the large-scale facility that Kim Jong-un toured. Images and video from the CABI website show training activities and equipment at the Plant Protection Institute located approximately 15 kilometers from the site Kim Jong-un toured. Bt or Bacillus thuringiensis is a bacteria often used as a natural pesticide in organic farming that can be found at the local nursery or hardware store. The problem is that its cousin, Bacillus anthracis—the causative agent of anthrax—is produced through identical means. A facility capable of producing Bt is also capable of producing anthrax. Bacillus anthracis, on the other hand, is the bacteria that causes the disease Anthrax. Dried spores can be absorbed through cuts in the skin, inhaled or ingested. Once inside the body, they activate, multiplying and releasing toxin. Inhaled spores are the most difficult to treat because Anthrax progresses rapidly, the symptoms are hard to diagnose and specific antibiotics and antitoxins must be administered early and aggressively. If spores were dispersed over a large crowd without warning, it would be extremely difficult to diagnose and treat on a mass-scale. The most effective way to deliver spores is using a manned or unmanned aerial vehicle like a crop duster to spray the powder up-wind from the targets. To that end, North Korea may seek in the future to outfit its growing drone collection with suitable spray nozzles. Very little is known about the origin or capacity of North Korea’s biological weapons (BW) program. While there are assertions that North Korea acquired a sample of Bacillus anthracis in Japan in 1968 and subsequently set up BW research centers, there have been varying accounts of their actual ability to weaponize and produce it on a military-scale. In fact, since the late 1990s, statements by US military and intelligence agencies have tended to characterize the DPRK’s capability as rudimentary, and have indicated that North Korea could build up a supply of biological weapons rather than asserting that it was maintaining active, weaponized BW munitions. In a speech at Osan Air Base in 2005, General Leon LaPorte, Commander of US Forces Korea, stated that he did not believe North Korea had been able to weaponize biological weapons, but that they were working on it and were continuing to experiment. The same year, an international nongovernmental organization may have inadvertently provided training and basic equipment that contributed to Pyongyang’s ability to produce BW at the Pyongyang Bio-technical Institute. CABI, a group that runs agricultural aid programs around the world, established a pilot facility] at the Plant Protection Institute in 2005 for the production of Bt bio-insecticide with funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and Chinese equipment. Unfortunately, this pilot facility could also be operated to produce anthrax and was possibly a training ground in preparation for the large-scale facility that Kim Jong-un recently toured. CABI ran a large-scale training program emphasizing capacity building that possibly inadvertently contributed to North Korea’s anthrax program. Its train-the-trainers program was designed specifically to spread knowledge of how to make and use Bt. Teaching how to apply Bt to crops is largely harmless, but teaching how to make Bt is essentially the same skill as teaching how to make anthrax. This kind of export is known as an intangible technology transfer (ITT). Even when there is no exchange of a physical good, an export can take place through email, printed documents or verbal training. More information about the exports is needed to determine whether this activity violated any law. Images and video from the CABI website show training activities and equipment at the Plant Protection Institute at the Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Pyongyang, located approximately 15 kilometers from the site Kim Jong-un toured. The Chinese equipment provided by CABI is lower quality and much smaller scale than viewed by Kim at the Pyongyang Bio-technical Institute but is still dual-use. Though there are only two images of the equipment (see below), both show items of a similar type and quality as found in the Iraqi BW program. If these pieces were indeed of Chinese origin and they were exported after 2002, then the autoclave and laminar flow table could have been subject to China’s “catch all” requirements, which prevent exports—even if they fall below control thresholds—if there is reason to believe they would be used in a WMD program.] China, like many countries, has had difficulty successfully reaching out to companies to inform them of catch-all requirements. Of course, it is difficult to establish a direct link between the CABI pilot plant and the Pyongyang Bio-technical Institute that Kim Jong-un toured. CABI has worked hard to improve food security, increase internet access and help both farmers and scientists in North Korea. This case, more than anything, demonstrates the challenges facing governments as they try to prevent the spread of biological weapons. …Biological weapons facilities are notoriously difficult to identify and monitor because of their dual-use nature. What looks like a civilian facility can also function as a military facility. More challenging still, is the fact that these facilities can operate in each capacity as demonstrated by the Soviet and Iraqi BW programs. The Pyongyang Bio-technical Institute clearly fits that mode. Given North Korea’s known history and interest in biological weapons, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Institute is intended to produce military-size batches of anthrax. If Pyongyang was interested only in food security, it could have procured Bt bio-insecticide legally and at a fraction of the cost. Instead, by choosing to illicitly import the dual-use equipment, North Korea is likely using the facility to maintain a latent BW capability—or worse—actively producing anthrax. The bottom line is that regardless of whether the equipment is being used to produce anthrax today, it could in the near future.” (Melissa Hanham, “Kim Jong-un Tours Pesticide Facility Capable of Producing Biological Weapons,” 38North, July 9, 2015)


7/8/15:
Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee spokesman’s statement “denouncing the dishonest forces of south Korea including the puppet conservative media for perpetrating the heinous provocative act of hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK over the issue of Ri Hui Ho’s visit to Pyongyang: The south Korean puppet group let the conservative media spread misinformation as regards Ri’s visit. It claimed that Ri suggested an overland travel but the leadership of the north side proposed a travel by air in a bid to propagandize among south Koreans Pyongyang International Airport built by the leadership with much effort. And the group also let experts on north Korean affairs float the false story that the north adjusted the timing of Ri’s visit to Pyongyang for “its political purpose.” The puppet Ministry of Unification let loose a spate of vituperation that it would handle the issue of Ri’s visit to Pyongyang with a “principle” despite the fact that officials concerned of the north and the south reached an agreement on it. This is an unpardonable serious provocation against the DPRK as the puppet group brought to light its sinister intention to stand in confrontation with the DPRK to the last, displeased with the process to improve the inter-Korean relations. And this cannot be construed otherwise than a deliberate and vicious obstruction to block Ri’s visit by getting on the nerves of the DPRK. In connection with Ri’s course of visit to Pyongyang, the DPRK told the Kim Dae Jung Peace Center that it was better for Ri to travel to Pyongyang by air to the best convenience of the guests as the Pyongyang-Kaesong Highway is under repair and the officials concerned of the south side fully agreed with it. It was reported that Ri accepted our sincere proposal with pleasure. The south Korean puppet group should not recklessly wag their tongues, clearly understanding that the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee and the Kim Dae Jung Peace Center just tentatively agreed on the issue of Ri’s Pyongyang visit at the working-level contact and it has not been fully confirmed. We solemnly warn that if the south Korean conservative group persistently hurts the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK and makes provocations against it, the hard-won opportunity may be scuppered. Ri Hui Ho’s successful Pyongyang visit depends on the behavior of the puppet group.” (KCNA, “Success of Ri Hui Ho’s Pyongyang Visit Depends on S. Korean Authorities’ Attitude,” July 8, 2015)

A pesticide factory recently visited by the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may be used to produce biological weapons, like anthrax, according to an online report posted today. On June 6, the state-run North Korean news media reported that when Kim visited the Pyongyang Biotechnical Institute, he was so happy with scientists’ work there in developing insecticides that he “wanted to carry them on his back.” But 38 North, a website run by Johns Hopkins University’s U.S.-Korea Institute, said photographs North Korean media released with the reports of Mr. Kim’s visit showed that North Korea has been importing dual-use equipment. “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the institute is intended to produce military-size batches of anthrax,” it said. “Regardless of whether the equipment is being used to produce anthrax today, it could in the near future.” (Choe Sang-hun, North Korea: Pesticide Factory May Have Sinister Purpose, Report Says,” New York Times, July 9, 2015) p. A-6)


7/9/15:
The value of production made at an inter-Korean industrial park rose 26 percent in the January-April period from a year earlier despite a drawn-out row sparked by North Korea’s unilateral wage hike, government data showed. The value of production at Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North reached a combined $186 million in the first four months of the year, compared with $148 million a year earlier, according to the Unification Ministry. In particular, the production at the park rose 21.8 percent on-year to $51.1 million in March and gained 19.7 percent to $50 million in April, when a wage dispute between the two Koreas heightened. The two Koreas have been locked in a months-long wage row following the North’s unilateral move to raise wages by 5.18 percent for the some 55,000 North Korean workers at the park in the border city of Kaesong. A total of 124 South Korean small and medium-sized enterprises are operating factories there. (Yonhap, “Production at Joint Industrial Park Rises 26 Pct. in Jan.-April,” Korea Herald, July 9, 2015)


7/10/15:
President Park Geun-hye said reunification between North and South Korea “could happen tomorrow” during a discussion last month with the Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation (PCUP), sources reported. Her remarks were read by some as alluding to a possible reunification following some kind of “collapse” in the North. “Unification could happen tomorrow, so you need to be making preparations,” Park was quoted as saying by an attendee at a closed-door intensive round table session among the PCUP‘s civilian members at the Blue House on the morning of July 10. Another attendee quoted Park as saying, “The experience of Germany shows that unification could happen in a few days or a few months, so you need to prepare.” Multiple sources also quoted Park, who chairs the committee, as saying she had received a report disputing accounts of the defection of North Korea People’s Army general Park Sung-won. “It is true that influential figures have been defecting,” Park was reported as saying. At one level, Park‘s remarks could be read as pro forma encouragement of the committee to “be on the alert” and make necessary preparations. But civilian unification experts who attended said she appeared to be alluding to a possible collapse in Pyongyang. “You could understand [the remarks] as saying ’we don‘t know when unification is going to happen and we need to be prepared,’ but there was also a sense to it of the subconscious notion that an upheaval in North Korea was a possibility,” said one attendee. Another attendee reported coming away with “the impression that she was making veiled references to strange currents in North Korea.” The undertones could have been related to the type of intelligence she was receiving on North Korea at the time. In mid-May, the National Intelligence Service reported to Park that Minister of People’s Armed Forces Hyon Yong-chol had been executed. It also delivered a sudden, closed-door report later to the National Assembly Intelligence Committee, despite the intelligence being unverified at the time. “I get the sense that President Park had been getting a lot of intelligence that focused on the fear tactics in North Korea and played up the possibility of a schism in the ruling class, and that may be what led her to put so much weight on the possibility of an upheaval,” said one North Korea expert. The Park administration has often voiced expectations of a collapse in Pyongyang. In December of 2013, the first year of Park’s term, then-NIS Director Nam Jae-joon is reported to have discussed the scenario of “unification under a liberal democratic system” as early as 2015. Park‘s reference to the “unification jackpot” in Jan. 2014 was seen by many at the time as no different from a “unification by absorption” scenario, emphasizing only the economic benefits of reunification without discussing the actual process. Park’s predecessor Lee Myung-bak (2008-13) made repeated references to South Korea absorbing the North after a regime collapse in Pyongyang, famously remarking that unification would come “like a thief in the night.” Regarding Park‘s remarks, the Blue House said it could not “verify a statement made by the President during a closed-door discussion.” PCUP vice chairman Chung Jong-wook said Park had “generally been talking about how unification could come at any time and we needed to be thoroughly prepared.” “She did not have any kind of North Korean ‘upheaval‘ in mind,” Chung asserted. (Kim Oi-hyun and Choi Hye-jung, “Pres. Park Reportedly Says Unification ‘Could Come Tomorrow,’” Hankyore, August 18, 2015)

President Park Geun-hye stressed the need to devise a “medium to long-term solution” to help North Korea with disease control and prevention, starting off by providing vaccines and antibiotics to counter tuberculosis (TB) and German measles. Speaking at a morning meeting at the Blue House with civilian members on the presidential Committee for Unification Preparation, Park did not specify how she planned to put the idea into practice, but insisted that the gesture would better the chances for inter-Korean unification. Today’s statement came a few months after the local government approved an aid plan in late May of 10.6 billion won ($9.7 million) under the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund, set up to support mutual exchanges and cooperation between the two countries. Of that, the biggest amounts were announced to go to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Program (WFP). UNICEF will be allocated with $4 million to help North Korea obtain vaccines and other medical supplies, while the WFP will be provided with $2.1 million to deliver nutritional products to needy mothers and children, the government said. (Lee Sung-eun, “President Proposes Aid for North,” JoongAng Ilbo, July 11, 2015)


7/11/15:
A group of armed North Korean soldiers crossed the military border into the South and returned to the North instantly after receiving warning shots, a South Korean Army source said June 12. “The military sent a warning message and fired warning shots after some 10 North Korean soldiers crossed the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) near Cheorwon, Gangwon Province, at about 8 to 9 a.m. on Saturday [June 11],” the source said. “The North Korean soldiers were armed and retreated after the warning shots. They didn’t fire back.” This marked the first time this year that the South Korean military has fired warning shots at North Korean soldiers for intruding. In October, soldiers of the two Koreas exchanged fire across the heavily armed border as North Koreans responded to the South’s warning shots when they approached the MDL in Paju, Gyeonggi Province. There were no reports of casualties or property damage on both sides. South Korean troops fired warning shots at North Korean soldiers who intruded on the buffer zone marking their heavily armed border, Seoul said, in the first such skirmish this year. The incident occurred this morning when 10 North Korean soldiers crossed the border of the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, the South’s defense ministry said. But the brief intrusion near Cheorwon, northeast of Seoul, triggered no exchange of fire as North Korean soldiers retreated without firing back, it said. (Yonhap, “N. Korean Soldiers Briefly Violate Border with S. Korea,” July 12, 2015)

In a report on high-level military talks with Laos held in Pyongyang, KCNA said four-star army General Pak Yong-sik attended the bilateral talks as the head of the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces, equivalent to South Korea’s defense minister. It is the first time the North has confirmed the replacement of the defense minister since South Korea’s spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, said in May the previous defense minister, Hyon Yong-chol, was executed in April on charges of treason. Pak has appeared among the top-echelon entourage accompanying North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to major public events in recent KCNA reports, fueling outside assumptions that he must have been appointed the new defense minister. But the appointment was not officially confirmed until today’s report. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Confirms Replacement for Purged Defense Minister,” July 11, 2015)


7/12/15:
The United States voiced concern last month about a possible delay in the relocation of the Futenma military base within Okinawa after Gov. OnagaTakeshi hinted at the possibility of canceling his predecessor’s approval for land reclamation to build a new base, according to sources familiar with bilateral relations. The central government dismissed the concern and gave assurances that it will continue with preparatory work for constructing the new base, the sources said. Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide has said a decision by the prefectural government to revoke the approval won’t affect the central government policy of pushing ahead with the project’s land reclamation phase. (Kyodo, “U.S. Aired Concern about Possible Delay in Okinawa Base Relocation,” Japan Times, July 12, 2015)


7/14/15:
Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo said that the South Korean government is ready to provide support to Pyongyang if it chooses to walk on the path toward denuclearization. But he added that whether the North would give up its nukes is not an “absolute prerequisite” for better inter-Korean exchanges. “It is not the government’s stance that only when North Korea abandons its nuclear weapons program that the South would pursue dialogue and inter-Korean exchanges,” Hong told a press conference with foreign reporters in Seoul. “North Korea’s denuclearization is not the absolute prerequisite for every exchange and cooperative project,” he said. But Hong made it clear that Pyongyang should show “sincere” attitude toward denuclearization, calling on the North to make the “right” choice. The minister said that the two Koreas “must engage in official dialogue” for peace and conciliation on a divided peninsula. “The ROK government has always maintained its stance to engage in sincere dialogue with Pyongyang to discuss a broad range of issues of mutual interest. We look forward to Pyongyang’s positive response as soon as possible,” Hong said. (Yonhap, “N.K. Denuclearization Not a Precondition for Better Inter-Korean Ties: Official,” July 14, 2015)

DPRK Red Cross Society Central Committee statement: “Shortly ago, the south Korean puppet regime perpetrated such crime against humanity as detaining three of five DPRK citizens who were adrift in the East Sea of Korea by accident. As already known, the DPRK side sent notices to the south side several times, urging it to repatriate all the crewmen without delay, and their families strongly demanded a face-to-face interview with them. However, the puppet regime has refused to send back three of them under absurd pretext of “defection.” In this regard, a spokesman for the Central Committee of the DPRK Red Cross Society made public a statement [today], which branded the detention as an unpardonable grave encroachment on the sovereignty of the DPRK and the rights of its citizens and another hideous provocation. In the past the DPRK sent back all south Korean fishermen and ships drifted toward its territorial waters, irrespective of reason and, in particular, it persuaded some of them eager to live in it to go back home, an expression of noble humanitarianism and compatriotism. …But the south Korean puppet group illegally detained citizens of the DPRK, forcing them to “defect”, and refused even to provide data on their situation and arrange an interview with their families. This is a vivid expression of its rude act against human rights. It is unjust and irritating that relatives are forced to separate from each other in peacetime, not in wartime. Now the puppet group advertise about the “will to defect” in order to quell the public criticism and protest at home and abroad against the detaining of DPRK citizens. But it can never cover up the truth about its heinous crime against the nation and humanitarianism that violated even the elementary morality. The “defection” farce is an extension of the group’s persistent anti-DPRK policy getting more reckless day by day, and it is a deliberate and premeditated provocation to justify the story about someone’s “instability of social system,” impair the high prestige of the DPRK and worsen the north-south relations. The puppet group should stop at once the anti-DPRK smear campaign precipitating its ruin and send back the illegally detained DPRK citizens without delay and any condition, clearly mindful of the catastrophic aftermath to be entailed by such provocation.” (KCNA, “South Korean Authorities Accused of Detaining DPRK Citizens,” July 14, 2015)

Since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took power, about 20 to 30 percent of senior party officials and more than 40 percent of senior military officers have been replaced, the National Intelligence Service told lawmakers here. The sweeping personnel reshuffles presumably served to tighten controls based on more party-centered rule and rein in the unruly military, which had assumed monstrous powers due to former leader Kim Jong-il’s “military-first” doctrine. Saenuri Party lawmaker Lee Cheol-woo of the National Assembly Intelligence Committee briefed the media on the report. (Chosun Ilbo, “Over 40% of N. Korean Brass Replaced in Purges,” July 15, 2015)


7/15/15:
The Iranian nuclear deal shows the U.S. willingness to engage even countries “with long-standing differences,” State Department spokesman John Kirby, stressing the U.S. is ready for negotiations as long as Pyongyang is serious about denuclearization. “Progress in the nuclear talks with Iran clearly demonstrates our willingness to engage countries with whom the United States has long-standing differences,” Kirby said in reponse to a Yonhap question on the Iranian deal’s possible implications on the North Korean standoff. “We are prepared for negotiations, provided that they are authentic and credible, get at the entirety of the North’s nuclear program, and result in concrete and irreversible steps toward denuclearization,” he said. “Pyongyang’s attempts to engage in dialogue while keeping critical elements of its weapons program running are unacceptable.” (Yonhap, “After Iran Deal, U.S. Says Ready for ‘Authentic, Credible’ Negotiations with N. Korea,” July 15, 2015) The landmark agreement yesterday between Iran and U.S.-led negotiators to curb Tehran’s nuclear program may help in denuclearizing Pyongyang in the long-term if Washington takes an “open-minded” approach toward the reclusive country, analysts said Wednesday. North Korea and Iran are not quite alike in their nuclear ambitions ― the two Koreas are still technically at war, with South Korea backed by the United States. Analysts said Washington should refrain from insisting on Pyongyang’s nuclear disarmament as a pre-condition for any bilateral dialogue, citing U.S. Department of State spokesman John Kirby’s comments on the issue. “The Tuesday deal gives room for Washington to focus on North Korea to fulfill U.S. President Barack Obama’s utopian vision for a nuclear-free world,” said Park Won-gon, an international studies professor at Handong University. Park cited Obama’s speech in Prague on April 5, 2009. Paik Hak-soon, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute, agreed with Park. “Washington should re-consider Pyongyang’s demand for a change in its hostility to the Kim Jong-un regime,” he said. An Chan-il, the head of the World Institute for North Korea Studies, suggested that the U.S. take a more diverse approach, such as offering economic incentives for North Korea. (Yi Whan-woo, “Denuclearizing N.K. Requires Talks with U.S.,” Korea Times, July 15, 2015) Some analysts say that after the U.S. took steps to normalize relations with Iran and Cuba — two of its three longtime foes, conditions have become more conducive for Washington to pay more attention to North Korea’s nuclear issues. But others argue that with a full plate of policy tasks concerning the implementation of the multilateral deal with Iran, Washington may already have its hands full and still remain reluctant to deal with the North that has claimed to be a nuclear-power state. “After the Obama administration took power from the Bush administration, a series of issues stemming from the Cold War era, such as those concerning Cuba and Myanmar, have been addressed, forming the broad international landscape for openness, coexistence and compromise,” said Park Myung-lim, a political scientist at Yonsei University. “So in light of this trend, the Iran deal could play a positive role in terms of adding pressure for North Korea’s denuclearization.” Park, however, noted that the most challenging issue for now is that, unlike two former North Korean leaders who stably managed the regime, current leader Kim Jong-un is likely to adhere more to the nuclear program due to the country’s deepening isolation and moribund economy. “Kim could be using the nuclear card to address all of its internal and external issues, including domestic instability, isolation, poor economy and the normalization of ties with the U.S. and South Korea, and so forth.” Taking a cautious stance on the implications of the Iranian deal for North Korea, analysts said it was inappropriate to compare North Korea and Iran, given the different status of their nuclear weapons technology and their participation in the global non-proliferation regime. Iran is still a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Chang Yong-seok, a senior analyst at Seoul National University’s Institute for Peace and Unification Studies, expressed doubts over the speculation that after the deal with Iran, the U.S. could pay more attention to Pyongyang. “I am rather cautious about whether the U.S. would move in the near future to address the North Korean issue, as there would be many follow-up measures to do to implement the Iran deal including its talks with the Congress,” he said. “Plus … when there is no guarantee that there would be progress to be made in negotiations with the North, which sticks to its nuclear weapons program and calls itself a nuclear power, Washington may not want to spend much time or put policy efforts into the issue.” After all, Seoul will have a critical role to play in bringing Pyongyang to the negotiating table and seeking a resolution to the nuclear issue, particularly when Washington faces a domestic political situation which is unfavorable to tackling the North Korean nuclear issue, analysts said. “North Korea sticks to its nuclear program for its regime and national survival. So, Seoul needs to find a way to assure the North that denuclearization would not endanger its regime, and that it is not pursuing any regime instability or unification by forcibly absorbing the North,” a North Korea expert said. “Of course, the critical thing for Seoul is to gain U.S. support for its North Korea policy, particularly, there is growing strategic distrust from the U.S. due to its policy to strengthen its strategic partnership with China.” (Song Sang-ho, “Iran Deal Magnifies N.K.’s Isolation,” Korea Herald, July 15, 2015) U.S. analysts have said that North Korea stands low in the U.S. priority list and that the Obama administration has little interest in resuming nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang as it has been preoccupied with the Iranian nuclear issue. The Iran deal “will almost certainly embroil the Obama administration in a domestic political debate over its provisions and implementation,” said Joel Wit, editor of the website 38 North, sponsored by the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. “And given all the other problems the administration is facing abroad, the chances of the U.S. making a concerted effort to restart nuclear negotiations remain small. To be fair, I don’t think North Korea is interested in such talks since its policies have been successful in building up its nuclear arsenal while moving forward with some economic improvements,” he said. Ken Gause, a North Korea expert at CNA Corp., agreed that chances of a breakthrough are low. “While the deal will free up time for the U.S. to focus on North Korea, which it might or might not do, I don’t think it will lead to a breakthrough on the six-party talks,” he said. “North Korea’s calculus will not be impacted by the Iran deal.” Jonathan Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the two issues are fundamentally different as the North has an ongoing weapons program and has withdrawn from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, whereas Iran agreed to meaningful constraints on even the possibilities of a weapons option. “I don’t anticipate any major implications for North Korea’s nuclear program,” he said. “Barring profound change in DPRK thinking and strategy, the impasse will remain undiminished. Nor do I envision any significant changes in U.S. policy toward North Korea.” Douglas Paal, vice president and director of the Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, also noted that for Iran, its nuclear program was “an option, not a prerequisite for the regime’s survival” but Pyongyang believes its weapons capabilities are vital to regime survival. “So the two situations are not analogous,” he said. Richard Bush, a senior researcher at Brookings, said he sees no implications on the North Korean issue. “Iran is not as far along as North Korea,” he said, adding that Tehran was willing to place significant limitations on its nuclear program in return for economic benefits while Pyongyang is unwilling to do so. “So Iran’s present won’t be North Korea’s future.” (Yonhap, “Iran Deal Unlikely to Have Implcations on N. Korean Standoff: U.S. Experts,” Korea Herald, July 15, 2015)

Japan’s ruling bloc rammed two security bills through a special committee of the Lower House — amid a chorus of yelling opposition lawmakers — clearing a critical step toward the enactment of legislation that would expand the scope of Self-Defense Forces’ missions overseas. Opposition lawmakers mobbed committee chairman Hamada Yasukazu of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and tried to halt the voting procedure. But amid the clamor, ruling lawmakers stood up to show their support for the bills, and Hamada declared that the legislation was passed. The bills would lift a number of restrictions on the SDF’s operations, including a ban on exercising the right of collective self-defense, or the right for a country to use force to aid an ally under attack even when not under attack itself. Article 9 of the pacifist postwar Constitution was long considered to prohibit exercising the right. The Abe administration amended the government’s official interpretation of the text, and then submitted the security bills to the Diet, but many experts have argued the reinterpretation is unconstitutional. The bills are now expected to clear the lower chamber’s plenary session tomorrow and to be sent immediately to the Upper House. That would leave more than 60 days before the current Diet session ends on Sept. 27, a period of time that all but guarantees enactment. If the Upper House fails to vote on a bill within 60 days of its passage by the lower chamber, it can be sent back to the Lower House and enacted there if more than two-thirds of attending members of the lower chamber agree. The ruling camp of the LDP and Komeito currently holds a more than two-thirds majority in the Lower House, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears determined to enact the bills by the end of the current Diet session. Today’s row at the Diet, however, may mark a turning point for the Abe administration. It enjoyed generally strong opinion polls following its inauguration in December 2012, but surveys show a majority of voters oppose the enactment of the security bills and that support is dwindling. A survey by Asahi Shimbun, conducted July11-12, found a 42 percent disapproval rate for the Cabinet. The figure is significant because it exceeds the approval rating for the first time since November. Senior officials apparently fear the planned reactivation of the Sendai reactor in Kagoshima Prefecture could further eat away at the Cabinet’s ratings. Kyushu Electric Power Co. plans to restart the Sendai reactor as early as Aug. 10, making it the first reactor to be reactivated on a long-term basis following the triple meltdown at Tepco’s Fukushima No. 1 plant in 2011. The Cabinet has long pushed for reactivation of the nuclear reactors halted in the wake of the nuclear disaster. On Wednesday, the three largest opposition parties — the Democratic Party of Japan, Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) and the Japanese Communist Party — opposed the ruling camp’s proposal to have a vote on the government-sponsored security bills. (Yoshida Reiji and Aoki Mizuho, “Amid Angry Scenes, Ruling Parties Force Security Bills through Lower House Committee,” Japan Times, July 15, 2015)


7/16/15:
A top American diplomat urged North Korea to learn from the landmark Iranian nuclear deal, negotiate away its nuclear programs and enjoy the benefits of denuclearization. “The one thing I will say, and I would say to the North Koreans, is that this agreement demonstrates that one can come out of isolation, one can come out from under sanctions, one can become part of the world community or have the potential to become part of the world community and end isolation, and do so in a peaceful way,” Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman said at a briefing. “It perhaps might give North Korea second thoughts about the very dangerous path that it is currently pursuing,” she said. “I still think that the work that we are doing with partners in the region to try to move forward in a united front is critical,” she said when asked whether she believes the long-stalled six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear issue are still worthwhile. The Iran deal “demonstrates multilateral diplomacy can work and that United Nations actions have meaning if done in the right way and pursued in the right way and used as leverage in the right way,” she said. (Yonhap, “U.S. Urges N. Korea to Learn from Iranian Deal,” North Korea Newsletter, 372, July 23, 2015)


7/17/15:
Multiple rounds of negotiations between the two Koreas on wages and other issues involving the Kaesong Industrial Complex collapsed early this morning after North Korea’s envoys stormed off. Yesterday and today, the joint committee managing the industrial complex held its first meeting in 13 months, and the two sides met for five sessions through both days. North Korean chief envoy Pak Chol-su angrily left the meeting, saying the committee is completely useless and that he would never come back to negotiate. “We regret that we could not reach any agreement as North Korea did not sincerely engage in the issues that would eventually lead to development of the complex,” said South Korean head envoy Lee Sang-min after the last session. “But it is still meaningful that the joint committee of the two Koreas shared opinions on current issues.” The key topic in the meetings was wages for North Korean workers at the complex. Last November, the North unilaterally announced it was revising 13 items in the operational regulations, including abolishing a cap on wage increases. The regime said it was going to raise the monthly minimum wage by 5.18 percent, from $70.35 to $74. The cap on wage increases was five percent annually. South Korea objected to the North’s decision. The Ministry of Unification blamed the North for maintaining an inflexible posture on the issues. “It’s meaningful that we had talks after a long time, but North Korea needs to work more for development of the complex,” said ministry spokesperson Jeong Joon-hee on Friday. “We’ve been flexible enough and said that we could accept a 5.18 percent wage increase even though both sides previously agreed on five percent.”

“But we also suggested that we could accept the offer if the North agrees on other issues,” Jeong continued, “such as wage system reform, communications and customs and improving the working environment at the complex.” The ministry said it was not taking the comments of Pak, the North’s chief envoy, seriously. “Pak knows that they need the committee for the complex and its global competitiveness,” spokesperson Jeong said. “He may have said something to vent his anger, but we don’t assume it’s the basic posture of North Korea on the committee. The next meeting will be held naturally when the atmosphere allows.” (Kim Bong-moon, “North Envoys Sotrm out of Kaesong Talks,” JoongAng Ilbo, July 17, 2015)

South Korea’s Defense Ministry invited North Korea’s vice minister-level officials to attend its annual high-level security forum, slated for September, setting the stage for cross-border defense dialogue. The invitation came the day after the two sides failed to compromise over the wages of North Koreans working in the joint industrial complex in Kaesong and other issues concerning the complex at their first meeting in more than a year. “Via the western military communication line, we have sent a message to the North’s Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces to invite its vice minister-level officials to the Seoul Defense Dialogue,” a senior official at Seoul’s Defense Ministry told reporters. “Should the North accept our invitation, there could be a bilateral meeting on its sidelines. We hope that the North will join our efforts to promote understanding and trust among nations in the Asia-Pacific region through this forum.” (Song Sang-ho, “Seoul Invites N.K. to September Security Forum,” Korea Herald, July 17, 2015)

The Bank of (South) Korea unveiled the North Korean economic growth rate, noting that its gross domestic product increased 1 percent in 2014 from the previous year. The North’s mining industry grew by 1.6 percent, and manufacturing showed 0.8 percent of growth due mainly to increasing production of textiles and shoes. The service industry, including restaurants, accommodation, transportation and communication showed 1.3 percent growth. The overall structure of the industry has changed slightly. Agriculture and fisheries accounted for 21.8 percent in 2014 and 22.4 percent in 2013. Service has increased to 31.3 percent from 30.0 percent in 2013 and 29.4 percent in 2012. “The increase in the service industry is a coherent trend according to the marketization of North Korea. However, stagnant agriculture and fisheries is short-term change, partly due to drought from last year, which is too early to define it as a transition in industry,” Lee Seok-ki, senior researcher of Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade told NK News. Weather affected electric power supply as well. Overall power supply has decreased by 2.8 percent, mainly due to the decrease in hydro power. “Last year, hydro power plants couldn’t operate well because of frozen water, and the drought made it difficult to operate them in spring,” Lee said. Building construction led the growth in the construction industry, even though the construction on roads and power plants has been stagnant. “This means construction by individuals and institutions has increased, compared to construction by government,” Jung Eun-lee, professor at Kyungsang University told NK News. Jung said that this speedy manner is possible thanks to investment from the donju (wealthy class). “It used to take the state five to 10 years to complete one building,” Jung said. “This accelerated construction indicates that the donju class can get construction material and labor force quickly.” Following this change, Jung said the quality of apartments has improved. “More construction materials are imported from China, which is better than North Korean ones, and these days apartments equipped with refurbished interior design are sold.” (Choi Ha-young, “N. Korea’s Economy Evolving,” NKNews, July 17, 2015)


7/18/15:
The U.S. recently conducted the first test flight of a bomber carrying new type nuclear bomb B61-12. It was reported that beside the test conducted under the supervision of the U.S. Nuclear Security Agency and its Air Force, two more tests are expected within this year. The U.S. squandered a stupendous amount of funds every year for implementing its plan for modernizing nuclear weapons and is contemplating spending one trillion U.S. dollars for modernizing land-based missiles, SLBM and long-range bombers. The increased spurs put by the U.S. to the modernization of nuclear force are quite contrary to its talk about building “a world without nuclear weapons.” (KCNA, “KCNA Denounces U.S. for Conducting First Test Flight of Bomber Carrying New Type Nuclear Bomb,” July 18, 2015)

The approval rating for the Cabinet of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo plunged by 9.7 percentage points from June to 37.7 percent, the lowest since he returned to power in December 2012, as a majority of the public objected to the ruling camp ramming controversial security bills through the lower house, a Kyodo News poll showed. The disapproval rating rose to 51.6 percent from 43.0 percent last month, surpassing the approval rating. In the telephone survey conducted yesterday and today, 73.3 percent of respondents said they do not support the way the security bills were passed, while 21.4 percent expressed support. The ruling coalition on July 16 pushed the bills through the Lower House despite strong objections by opposition parties, with many lawmakers from the camp boycotting the vote in protest. The move also prompted demonstrations in Tokyo and elsewhere throughout the country. The bills would allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense — or coming to the aid of the United States and other friendly nations under armed attack, even if Japan itself is not attacked. This represents a major shift in the country’s postwar security policy. The poll also captured public unhappiness over the Abe government’s explanation of the legislation, with 82.9 percent calling it insufficient. That compared with just 13.1 percent who said the explanation was sufficient. More than half of the respondents, 56.6 percent, said they believe the bills violate the war-renouncing Constitution, while 24.4 percent said the legislation does not. A total of 68.2 percent voiced opposition to the enactment of the legislation in the current Diet session, which runs through late September, up 5.1 points from the previous survey, while 24.6 percent said they support the enactment. Those backing the security legislation reached 27.5 percent, compared with 61.5 percent who are opposed to it. (Kyodo, “Abe Cabinet Support Level Plunges after Security Bills Rammed through,” Japan Times, July 18, 2015)


7/21/15:
DPRK FoMin spokesman: “The U.S. is talking this and that over the nuclear issue of the DPRK in the wake of the conclusion of the agreement on the nuclear issue of Iran. A spokesperson of the U.S. Department of State said on July 14 that “Washington is ready for dialogue with Pyongyang if discussion is made on the nuclear issue of north Korea and it helps put it on a concrete and full-fledge stage of nuclear disarmament.” A U.S. undersecretary of State uttered on July 16 that it was his hope that the conclusion of the agreement with Iran would help the DPRK rethink of its nuclear issue. Iran’s nuclear agreement is the achievement made by its protracted efforts to have its independent right to nuclear activities recognized and sanctions lifted. But the situation of the DPRK is quite different from it. The DPRK is the nuclear weapons state both in name and reality and it has interests as a nuclear weapons state. The DPRK is not interested at all in the dialogue to discuss the issue of making it freeze or dismantle its nukes unilaterally first. The nuclear deterrence of the DPRK is not a plaything to be put on the negotiating table as it is the essential means to protect its sovereignty and vital rights from the U.S. nuclear threat and hostile policy which have lasted for more than half a century. It is illogical to compare Iran’s nuclear agreement with the situation of the DPRK which is exposed to constant provocative military hostile acts and the biggest nuclear threat of the U.S. including its ceaseless large-scale joint military exercises. The DPRK remains unchanged in the mission of its nuclear force as long as the U.S. continues pursuing its hostile policy toward the former.” (KCNA, “FM Spokesman Slams U.S. for Deliberately Linking Negotiations with Iran over Nuclear Issue with DPRK,” July 21, 2015)


7/22/15:
North Korea has almost completed modifications to its long-range rocket launch facility near the border with China, government sources here said. A new 67-meter-tall gantry has been spotted in the Dongchang-ri site, which the North calls the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, a source said apparently on the basis of satellite imagery. “We believe that the North will use the extended gantry in Dongchang-ri to fire a long-range missile longer than the Unha-3,” the source said. “We think (the North) will carry out a provocation around the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party on Oct. 10.” South Korea’s Defense Minister Han Min-koo earlier said the North is expected to take “strategically provocative action” around the anniversary. “Our military is closely watching and monitoring movements related to North Korea’s missile launches, including the construction activity at the Dongchang-ri missile launch site,” Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said. The North began work in late 2013 on the new structure. Military and intelligence officials said they believe the upgraded facility can be used for the launch of long-range missiles twice the size of the 30-meter-long Unha-3, which put a satellite into orbit in December 2012. The extended gantry appears capable of firing long-range rockets with a range of more than 13,000 kilometers, they said. North Korea is banned under U.N. Security Council resolutions from carrying out any launch using ballistic missile technology. It has defied the resolutions, however, insisting on its right to use the technology for scientific purposes. “We think there is credibility in the intelligence that (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-un has ordered the launch of a satellite to mark the Workers’ Party anniversary,” said another government source, also requesting anonymity. “We have detected signs of what appears to be the manufacturing of a long-range rocket at an arms factory near Pyongyang.” (Yonhap, “N. Korea Upgrades Long-Range Missile Launch Facility,” July 22, 2015) Brown and Liu: “Recent commercial satellite imagery indicates that construction begun in spring 2015 after the earlier modification of the Sohae gantry for space launch vehicles (SLVs) has been completed. It appears that the SLV stages and payload can be prepared horizontally in a new launch support building at the end of the pad, then transferred to a movable support structure that is several stories high, where they will be erected vertically, checked out and finally moved to the launch tower. Imagery of the Sohae engine test stand also indicates that preparations were underway as of July 21, including the presence of a moveable crane and probable ground support equipment, for an engine test in the near-term. A subsequent unconfirmed Yonhap report on July 24 stated that a test had taken place. Construction of a shelter covering the Sohae rail spur where SLV stages and associated equipment are delivered from offsite has also been completed. The shelter would prevent the observation of rail activity at this location, and make it more difficult to observe the arrival of missile-related railcars and shipping containers by satellite imagery. Despite these developments and statements by the ROK Ministry of Defense that Pyongyang is likely to conduct a “strategic provocation” around the time of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea, there are still no indications at Sohae that test preparations are underway to support a long-range SLV launch. There is also no public evidence to suggest that a decision has been made by the leadership in Pyongyang to move forward with a launch. In the coming weeks, if preparations are indeed underway, we would expect to see other on-the ground indications at Sohae including increased rail activity and the possible arrival of missile related railcars, activity at facilities associated with rocket assembly, the filling of oxidizer and fuel storage tanks associated with the launch pad, activity at range radars intended to track a launch and possibly the arrival of VIPs to observe a launch.” (Tim Brown and Jack liu, “North Korea: Sohae Facility Ready to Support Future SLV Launch; Preparations for Engine Testing Identified,” 38North, July 18, 2015)


7/23/15:
The United States imposed sanctions on a Singapore-based shipping company and its president, accusing them of providing support for North Korea’s illicit imports of arms and related materials. The Treasury Department said Senat Shipping Company provided extensive support to the North’s Ocean Maritime Management Company that has already been under sanctions for attempting to import a concealed shipment of arms and related materials to the communist nation. The department also sanctioned Senat’s president, Leonard Lai, for supporting the North Korean firm. “Arms shipments transported by OMMC serve as a key resource for North Korea’s ongoing proliferation activities. Sales from these shipments contribute to North Korea’s other illicit programs,” Acting Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Adam J. Szubin said in a statement. “We are working to make it as challenging as possible for North Korea to continue its unlawful behavior by actively targeting anyone or any business that supports these illicit arms transfers,” he said. The sanctions call for freezing “any property or interests in property of the designated persons that are or come within U.S. jurisdiction.” In addition, transactions by Americans or people within the U.S. involving the property of designated people, including the identified vessel, are prohibited under the measures. (Yonhap, “U.S. Imposes Sanctions on Singapore-Based Firm,” Korea Herald, July 24, 2015)

Mugford: “Recent commercial satellite imagery indicates that North Korea’s 5 MWe Plutonium Production Reactor may not be operating or is only functioning at low power levels. The presence of what is likely a vehicle to transport carbon dioxide used in the reactor’s cooling system may indicate that maintenance activities are underway. The reactor appears to have been operating only sporadically since fall 2014 perhaps because the facility is aging. Construction that began in late spring 2015 continues at the incomplete Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR). Imagery from July 2 shows that the construction adjacent to the reactor hall can now be identified as a transformer yard to connect the electricity producing reactor to the grid. The yard appears to be complete but all the equipment is probably not yet installed. Once finished, the North Koreans will have taken another step towards beginning initial operation of the reactor. Work also continued at a rapid pace at the Uranium Enrichment complex at Yongbyon. The roof of the building that contains the probable hot cells is nearly externally complete, as is the large unidentified L-shaped building. … Imagery from July 2 indicates that the North Koreans have finished the initial construction of the transformer yard at the ELWR that will connect the electricity-producing reactor to the grid. The large mobile crane spotted in imagery from late May has now departed. The yard extends west from the southwest end of the reactor building and covers an area approximately 25 meters long and 18 meters wide. The access pathways to each equipment area are clearly defined, and probably made of concrete or white rock. While the yard appears to be complete, all the equipment probably has not been installed. … Construction in the Uranium Enrichment Facility is proceeding rapidly. In the seven weeks since last imaged, the North Koreans have completed more than 75 percent of the roof of a large new building. Previous analysis identified what appeared to be five probable hot cells for handling nuclear material in the building. That conclusion was consistent with their shape and the fact that the cells have a typically large foundation. Nevertheless, the July 2 imagery showing the east facing outside wall of the cells at least raises the possibility that these cells may instead be used to assemble or store conventional high explosive components of a nuclear weapon. The wall’s five evenly spaced panels that are a different tone and texture than the rest of the wall are probably a decorative or imagery anomaly. However, if there is a difference in the construction of the outside walls of the cells, they could be blow-out panels. Found on high explosive (HE) assembly and storage buildings to reduce the level of damage if an HE assembly explodes during assembly or storage, a blow-out panel directs most of the energy outside the structure, so adjacent cells are not damaged. The energy directed outside is deflected upward by a surrounding earthen berm. A key consideration will be whether the North Koreans construct such a berm around the area intended to deflect the explosion. Whether that is possible remains unclear since the rear of the building is very close to the adjacent L-shaped structure, leaving little room for a berm. The L-shaped building has a fixture for a probable stack on the eastern end of the roof, indicating an operational structure. There are also two cylindrical mounted tanks outside the south end of the building, and a third tank on the ground, perhaps to be placed inside the structure. The stack and tanks are clues to the purpose of this building, but not sufficient to identify how it will be used.” (William Mugford, “North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Facility: Sporadic Operations at the 5 MWe Reactor But Construction Elsewhere Moves Forward,” 38North, July 24, 2015)


7/25/15:
KPA Panmunjom mission spokesman’s statement “denounced the south Korean puppet warmongers for staging frantic shelling drills in the areas of Paekryong and Yonphyong Islands every day as part of desperate military provocations against the DPRK: What matters is that the U.S. is behind all these military provocations. … On July 20, too, U.S. imperialist aggressor forces brought with them loudspeakers and blared near the Military Demarcation Line in Panmunjom that the drills being staged by the puppet forces in waters southwest of the West Sea, a hot spot, are “regular ones” and they are “not related to the situation at all”. They did this as a very shameless “prior notice.” On the day of provocative shelling they brought riff-raffs of an “international visiting group” to the scene of provocation under the pretext of “confirming” the observation of the armistice agreement, fanning up hysteria of the puppet warmongers. The U.S. is hurling the puppet forces into ceaseless arms buildup and military provocations in the above-said waters in a sinister bid to preserve the illegal “northern limit line”, to begin with. According to the conspiratorial plan to preserve the “northern limit line” in recent years, the U.S. is hurling the puppet forces and human scum into waters southwest of the West Sea including Paekryong Island to scatter leaflets, deliberately straining the situation there. It is none other than the U.S. which frequently infiltrated the puppet warships and fishing boats into the territorial waters of the DPRK side under the pretext of “intercepting illegal fishing boats” and it is again the U.S. which often let manned and unmanned aircraft fly in the sky above those sensitive waters. Lurking behind these military provocations is a foolish intention to preserve the waning justification for keeping the “UN Command.” The U.S. should never forget even a moment that its bases of provocations are within the range of indiscriminate sighting strike of the KPA. These reckless military provocations of the U.S. will only precipitate its doomsday.” (KCNA, “U.S. Accused of Kicking off Reckless Military Provocations: Spokesman for KPA Panmunjom Mission,” July 25, 2015)


7/27/15:
After the Obama administration’s groundbreaking nuclear deal with Iran, there have been calls to replicate that pact with North Korea, a rogue state that already has nuclear-weapons capability. But Kim Jong-un’s regime has made it clear that it expects to be accepted as a nuclear power — saying this month it is “not interested” in an Iran-style deal. The Obama administration is instead focusing on human rights to further isolate North Korea, encouraged by the outbursts this approach has elicited from Kim’s stubbornly recalcitrant regime — apparently because the accusations cast aspersions at the leader and his legitimacy. “There is a growing assumption that the North Koreans are not going to surrender their nukes,” Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert based in Seoul, said after recent meetings with officials in Washington. Human rights are Washington’s “next political infatuation,” he said. This is likely to increase as a U.N. committee reports back in October on a resolution condemning North Korea’s human rights violations and seeking to refer its leaders to the International Criminal Court. Although such a resolution would be certain to be vetoed in the U.N. Security Council by China and probably Russia, American officials say that simply keeping the issue alive and continuing the drumbeat of criticism against the regime has more of an impact than forcing the resolution to a vote. “I think this focus on human rights is beginning to get their attention,” a senior State Department official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity under ground rules imposed by the department. “We’ve been able to push on [the Commission of Inquiry report], and we are continuing to keep these efforts going.” Pyongyang’s reactions to the human rights push have been similar to its visceral reaction to American financial sanctions in 2005, said William Newcomb, a former Treasury official who served on a special U.N. panel of experts on sanctions against North Korea. By sanctioning Banco Delta Asia, a small bank based in Macau that handled North Korean money, the United States effectively cut off North Korea’s access to the international financial system. That brought Pyongyang back to the nuclear negotiating table. “I perceive their response as being similar to how they reacted once they realized what had been done to them via BDA — and that took a while to sink in,” Newcomb said. “Even then, they really didn’t understand how BDA could be leveraged to have lasting negative consequences on their access to the international finance system. “Exposing their horrible human rights record similarly puts them on the defensive, and, unlike with nukes, they have no counterargument to justify their actions that anyone could buy,” he said. (Anna Fifield, “U.S. Planning to Press Harder against North Korea on Human Rights,” Washington Post, July 27, 2015)

Chinese President Xi Jinping made a one-day visit to the northeastern city of Shenyang near the border with North Korea in a trip that could be seen as a message of willingness to improve relations with Pyongyang, diplomatic sources said. Xi stressed the importance of promoting industrial bases in the northeastern region, according to local businessmen and diplomatic sources. Xi also called for greater efforts to open up the province of Liaoning, they said. The visit came just nine days after Xi traveled to the nearby province of Jilin on July 16-18, a trip seen as leaving open the possibility of economic cooperation with North Korea. Such successive visits to the northeast region near the North are considered unusual, and some observers interpret these trips as a message of his willingness to mend fences with Pyongyang. (Yonhap, “Chinese President Visits Shenyang near N. Korean Border,” July 28, 2015)

Seiler: “I just finished some very valuable meetings with my counterparts in the Republic of Korea government to include Director General Kim Gunn, and of course his boss and the lead senior representative for this issue in the Republic of Korea, Ambassador Hwang Joon-kook. It’s particularly auspicious to come here on July 27th, the anniversary of the Armistice Agreement … Q: Is there any outlook for dialogue with the North Korean delegation on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum next month? SEILER: You know, we have long been open to dialogue with the DPRK. And we have made quite clear to the DPRK that we are willing to engage in discussions on a range of issues. I can’t speak to the possibilities for any contacts in the near future. Unfortunately we are in this protracted period where the DPRK has been reluctant to engage in dialogue with us. I know that’s been equally frustrating for the Republic of Korea as you’ve worked so hard to try to get inter-Korean dialogue going. It’s been frustrating for the other Six-Party Talks members, who sought to bring the DPRK back to meaningful negotiations. … Q: Do you think there is a fresh momentum to deal with the North Korean issue because of the Iran nuclear deal? SEILER: I think that is a question that is ultimately best directed towards the DPRK. Again, the Iran deal demonstrates the value and the possibilities that negotiations bring. It demonstrates again our willingness when we have a willing counterpart. It demonstrates our flexibility when the DPRK makes the decision that it wants to choose a different path. So that question is really one for Pyongyang more than it is for us, because we have always stood ready to engage in dialogue on this issue. Q: Jay Kwaak, Wall Street Journal. Are you considering any fresh incentives or measures of pressure on North Korea in order to bring them back to dialogue? SEILER: Well, I don’t really want to get into the details of our diplomacy. I would continue to say that we have had a two-track approach that seeks negotiations as possible and pressure as necessary. Pressure is a key component, not only of convincing the leadership of the DPRK of the need to return to negotiations but also to do what we can as an international community to impede the growth of the DPRK program, to inflict a cost for its unwillingness to negotiate. And indeed to create the conditions necessary for resumed authentic and credible negotiations. I think what you will find is a consistency to our approach, a consistency to our policy, that includes a consistency to our openness, to dialogue as the opportunities present themselves, and a consistency to take the measures that we find to be important to counter the DPRK and its nuclear program. Q: What kind of efforts does the US government and Korean government want from the Chinese side and what will be the main subject for your trip to China? SEILER: I look forward to my visit to Beijing. I’ll be meeting with my new counterpart there. China, of course, was a close partner in our efforts towards concluding the agreement with Iran. China’s been a long time partner as we come upon the 10th anniversary of the September 19, 2005 Joint Statement. As the host of the Six-Party Talks. As a country with a unique relationship with the DPRK. So, we will continue to have the same type of discussions that we’ve had with the government of China to date. They’ve been a good partner until now and we will continue to explore the lessons learned, as it were, from our experience in negotiations on the Iran deal. And see what we can do to apply those lessons to bring the DPRK back to the negotiating table.” (DoS, Special Envoy for the Six-Party Talks Sydney Seiler, Remarks at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Seoul, July 27, 2015)

North Korea is not interested in reopening talks with the United States on freezing or dismantling its nuclear program “unilaterally first,” Ji Jae-ryong, ambassador to China said, dashing hopes that Pyongyang may follow the path of Iran in dealing with its nuclear ambition. Ji also declined to comment on China’s role in resolving the North’s nuclear issue, apparently reflecting strained political ties between the allies. “On the question related to the bilateral relationship between the DPRK and China, I have no more information so far,” Ji said. “We are not interested at all in dialogue to discuss the issue of freezing or dismantling our nukes unilaterally first,” Ji told about 50 journalists from international media organizations in a rare press conference at the North Korean Embassy in Beijing. “The nuclear deterrence of the DPRK is not a plaything to be put on the negotiating table,” Ji said. His remarks were translated into English by an interpreter. Ji said at the conference that Iran’s nuclear agreement is an achievement made by “protracted efforts to have its independent right for nuclear activity.” “But, the situation of the DPRK is quite different from that of Iran. The DPRK is a nuclear weapons state both in name and in reality,” he continued. “And it has an interest as a nuclear weapons state.” Wearing a dark-blue suit, the North Korean ambassador read out a prepared statement before answering three short questions. Ji’s statement called for South Korea and the U.S. to halt their annual joint military drills on the Korean Peninsula in the coming weeks, while blaming Washington’s “hostile policy” toward North Korea for the long-running impasse over the North’s nuclear program. “We have the power to cope with any kinds of war methods of the U.S. imperialists and have the strong power to restrain the provocative nuclear war acts of the U.S.,” Ji said. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Says No Interest in Talks on Freezing Its Nuclear Program ‘Unilaterally First,’” July 28, 2015)

The South Korean government has decided to stop providing large-scale aid to North Korea annually, which often included as much as 400,000 tons of rice and 300,000 tons of fertilizer. Instead, it plans to recalibrate its North Korean aid efforts to individual development and cooperation projects spearheaded by the private sector in the areas of public health, agriculture and stockbreeding, and forestry. “We will overhaul the current budget system for the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund, moving from organization-based aid by the government, the private sector, and international organizations to project-based aid starting with the 2016 budget,” a Ministry of Unification official said. This will end budget allocations for food aid and fertilizer aid to North Korea, which are classified as government assistance. In the future, budget allocations will be made in the categories of young children and public health, agriculture and stockbreeding, and forestry. The Ministry is moving to adopt the model of the Ace Gyeongam Foundation, which provided 15 tons of fertilizer assistance in an agriculture cooperation project in North Hwanghae Province last April. Between 1995 and 2007, South Korea provided a total of 2.03 trillion won (US$1.74 billion) worth of rice (2.66 million tons) and fertilizer (2.55 million tons) to North Korea. This accounted for 62% of the 3.28 trillion won of aid given to North Korea over this period. But when Lee Myung-bak was elected president in 2008, large shipments of rice and fertilizer were discontinued in response to a controversy about giving unconditional aid to North Korea. Now the government intends to write that policy into the system, starting with the budget allocation for the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund. “We took into account the fact that North Korea, which is no longer dealing with an extreme food shortage, is more interested in development projects than in material assistance,” the Ministry of Unification official said. But experts are concerned that the government is moving to discontinue the food and fertilizer assistance without thoroughly considering its full ramifications in order to avoid criticism from conservatives about unilateral aid to North Korea. “Large-scale rice and fertilizer assistance has given North Korea an incentive to engage in high-level talks and reunions for divided families. It is short-sighted to end this assistance when inter-Korean relations are already strained. It is a rash move to announce the end of government-level aid while North Korea still faces a food shortage,” said Kang Yeong-sik, secretary general of the Korean Sharing Movement. “North and South Korea need to sit down at the table to explore ways to lift the May 24 Measures and to provide assistance for the drought,” said Kim Chang-soo, director of research at the Korea National Strategy Institute. (Kim Ji-hoon, “S. Korea Moving away from Large-Scale Aid to North Korea,” Hankyo