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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 24 (October 9, 2008)

All Headlines 10:54 October 09, 2008

*** NEWS IN BRIEF (Part 2)

Reconstruction of North Korea-Russia Railways Begun

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea and Russia began the reconstruction of railway links between the neighboring countries on Oct. 4, in expectancy that the railways will develop into an excellent international transport route between Asia and Europe.

The (North) Korean Central News Agency said a ground-breaking ceremony for the reconstruction of the Rajin-Khasan Railway and Rajin Port took place in front of the DPRK-Russia Friendship House in the area of Tuman (Tumen) River Railway Station in Rason City, which is the North's first free economic trade zone in the northeastern corner of the reclusive country. DPRK is the acronym for the North's official name, Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The project for reconstruction of the 54-km railroad track, along with development of the warm water port, was signed by railway chiefs of the two countries officially in April. It was originally agreed at the summit between the North and Russia in Moscow in 2001.

The ceremony was attended by Minister of Railways Jon Kil-su, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kung Sok-ung, Vice Minister of Foreign Trade Ri Myong-san from the North, together with a delegation of the Russian Railways Company headed by its President V.I. Yakunin, Governor of the Administration of Maritime Territory of the Russian Federation Sergei Darkin, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Aleksei Borodavkin and Russian Ambassador to the DPRK Valery Sukhinin.

Notably, Yakunin referred to the reconstruction project as "the experimental stage of the large project for connecting the Trans-Siberian Railroad (TSR) with the Trans-Korean Railways (TKR), which is drawing the attention of different countries."

Earlier on Sept. 30, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev agreed to work together to link the TSR and TKR for its eventual connection to Europe in the summit meeting in Moscow.

Meanwhile, Choson Sinbo, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper in Japan, on Oct. 6 said that the reconstructed rail link will transport four million tons and 100,000 containers annually, adding that the first stage of developing Rajin Port over three stages will be completed by October 2010.


Pyongyang Sent U.S. Ultimatum on Nuclear Dispute: Pro-NK Daily

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The stalled six-party talks on scrapping North Korea's nuclear programs may break down if Washington rejects an apparent "ultimatum" from Pyongyang on a verification protocol, a pro-Pyongyang daily in Japan said on Oct. 6.

The Choson Sinbo, the organ of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, said Pyongyang appears to have delivered the ultimatum to the top U.S. nuclear envoy, who visited the socialist country last week to salvage the disarmament talks.

During his three-day stay in Pyongyang, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill is believed to have offered a compromise plan to settle a dispute over verifying the North's nuclear declaration to Pyongyang officials, including Ri Chan-bok of the North Korean People's Army.

Although no details have been disclosed, Seoul officials believe the talks yielded some results, with some in Seoul saying the North may have proposed a meeting of high-ranking military officials between Pyongyang and Washington to discuss the verification issue.

"The North Korean side appears to have suggested ways to peacefully resolve the nuclear dispute through the top U.S. negotiator to the six-party talks and issued an ultimatum related to this," the daily said in a commentary monitored in Seoul.

"The six-party talks, reactivated after North Korea's underground nuclear test in October 2006, may breakdown if the two sides fail to reach an agreement," said the newspaper, widely seen as representing Pyongyang's position.

In such a case, North Korea would no longer adhere to the six-party framework and may try to reverse its nuclear disablement process to strengthen its position in negotiations with the next U.S. government, the daily said.

The fact that Pyongyang invited the U.S. nuclear envoy to the country, however, shows it does not want to waste diplomatic efforts made so far, the newspaper added.

Tensions have steadily mounted as the unpredictable North took steps in recent weeks toward restarting its nuclear program, apparently in protest at Washington's refusal to remove it from a terrorism blacklist before a deal on a verification protocol.

The North announced in mid-August a halt in the slow-going disablement of its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon under a 2007 deal with the U.S., South Korea, China, Russia and Japan.

Pyongyang told the International Atomic Energy Agency late last month that it was about to reload nuclear material into a plutonium reprocessing plant, where weapons-grade material would be extracted from spent fuel rods.


Security Organs of North Korea, Vietnam Sign Cooperation

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The security organs of North Korea and Vietnam signed an agreement of mutual cooperation on Oct. 7, according to the North's news outlet.

The (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the signing ceremony was held at the Mansudae Assembly Hall in Pyongyang and the agreement was signed by the North's People's Security Minister Ju Sang-song and his Vietnamese counterpart Le Hong Anh.

Such an agreement came after the talks between both the ministries, where they "exchanged views on the issue of boosting exchange and cooperation... and a series of matters of mutual concern."

Though the content of the agreement was not disclosed, analysts in Seoul said the agreement likely dealt with cooperation over the issue of its defectors, as Vietnam and Laos are countries on the main escaping route into the South for North Koreans, along with Thailand.

Earlier, Ju visited Vietnam and Laos in June, paying a courtesy call on the top leaders of the two countries respectively, while concluding a memorandum of understanding on cooperation with the Lao security body.

Meanwhile, the Vietnamese delegation paid a courtesy call on Kim Yong-nam, the North's titular head of state, on the day and asked him to convey the greetings of General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nong Duc Manh to the North's leader Kim Jong-il.

Nong paid a state visit to North Korea last October for the first time in 50 years as the Vietnamese leader, followed by the arrival of top military political members of Vietnam in September.

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