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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 39 (January 29, 2009)

All Headlines 14:35 January 29, 2009


Malnutrition Reducing N. Korea's Military Pool: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Chronic food shortages will considerably reduce North Korea's pool of military recruits in the coming years, with nearly a quarter of young adults unfit for service due to malnutrition-related mental disabilities, a U.S. intelligence report said Jan. 22.

The famine of the 1990s has caused severe cognitive deficiencies among young North Koreans, said the report by the National Intelligence Council that used studies from several U.S. intelligence agencies.

The rate of disqualification will peak in the 2009-2013 period, during which an estimated 17-29 percent of potential North Korean recruits born during the 1990s famine will reach military age, it said.

"Poor health is weakening military readiness because capable new recruits are in short supply. Loyalty may also erode over time," the report said.

North Korea boasts a 1.1-million-strong military under leader Kim Jong-il's "songun" or "military-first" policy, which prioritizes the military's combat ability and its welfare over any other issue.

But its size and morale seem to be thinning. Two-thirds of young adults are now considered malnourished or anemic, the report said, and nationwide malnutrition has compelled Pyongyang to lower minimum height and weight requirements for military service.

Chronic malnutrition occurring before age two can lower IQ by approximately 5-15 points, it said.

The report noted the socialist country's once efficient health care system broke down amid the famine, but it is "extremely difficult to track" prevalent outbreaks such as tuberculosis, scarlet fever and measles in the country because of its secretiveness.

Malnutrition-related cognitive disabilities among North Korean youth will bog down future economic growth in the North regardless of whether it unifies with South Korea or opens to outside assistance, it said.

"If reunification occurs, South Korea will face the costs not only of incorporating an economic void, but also those of a huge healthcare burden," it warned, suggesting that the international community help enhance North Korea's medical condition as a means of "diplomacy through the back door."


President Lee Says Reconciliation with N. Korea Top Priority

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Jan. 23 called on the military to fully prepare to counter any provocation from North Korea, meanwhile saying the nation's top priority is securing peace and reconciliation between the divided Koreas.

The call came less than a week after the North's Korean People's Army (KPA) said it will take an "all-out confrontation posture" against the South.

"It would be best if we are able to maintain peace between the South and the North and that the two reconcile with each other," Lee said in a phone call to the commander of an front-line Army division.

"There should be no problems as long as our military maintains a perfect defense posture," the president said during his phone call, made ahead of the Lunar New Year, one of the country's biggest traditional holidays that falls on Jan. 26.

In a separate phone call to the commander of a Navy unit deployed in the Yellow Sea, Lee again stressed the need to deter any aggression from the socialist nation, especially over the holiday weekend.


Obama Urged to Focus on Human Rights in Dealing with N. Korea

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The former U.S. special envoy for human rights in North Korea has urged the new Obama administration to emphasize human rights in dealing with the reclusive regime.

"In a manner similar to Helsinki, the U.S., South Korea, Japan and our other partners now have the opportunity to expand our approach to one of constructive engagement, an effort that is intended to open up the North Korean regime," Jay Lefkowitz, U.S. special envoy for human rights in North Korea, said in his final report submitted to the U.S. government recently. He resigned soon after Obama's inauguration on Jan. 20.

Lefkowitz, appointed by then President George W. Bush in 2005 under the North Korean Human Rights Act, was referring to the Helsinki Act signed in 1975 by the U.S. and 34 other Western countries. It called for a focus on human rights in dealing with the Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc states.

The Helsinki process led to the creation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and resulted in the collapse of the Soviet bloc nations in the early 1990s.

The Pyongyang initiative, Lefkowitz said, "may consist of a new framework for dialogue and effective steps to interact more deeply with North Korea. This should involve a candid and ongoing human rights dialogue with Pyongyang as a condition for the future normalization of relations."

Lefkowitz proposed that the U.S. and its allies cooperate closely to link any aid to North Korea with human rights improvements. Such aid would include development assistance, World Bank loans, trade access and food.

"When countries provide unilateral aid to North Korea, it is easier for Pyongyang to resist monitoring," he said. "If aid donors could be syndicated and would agree to offer large amounts of humanitarian assistance to North Korea contingent on full access and monitoring, Pyongyang might feel impelled to accept."

"Were this to happen, the misery of the North Korean people could be partially alleviated in a way that does not strengthen the regime," he added.


U.N. Committee to Examine Human Rights of Children in N. Korea

GENEVA (Yonhap) -- A United Nations committee is set to question North Korean officials on Jan. 23 about the socialist country's policy on protecting the human rights of children in the country, the first such session since 2004.

The one-day session on North Korea conducted by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva is the third of its kind, following similar sessions in 1998 and 2004 that examined malnutrition, infant mortality and budget cuts related to children's welfare.

The committee's review is expected to become a guideline for a possible resolution on North Korea's human rights if it is put to a vote at the U.N. General Assembly later this year.

North Korea, a member of the U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child, submitted a report in January 2008 saying the country pushed forward economic construction that helped enhance children's welfare.

But the report also noted the 2001-2007 period under review was a time of trial for the North because of security threats, in an apparent reference to its largely frayed relations with the United States and Japan.

"The period under review was a period in which the DPRK went through a harsh trial due to the unfavorable developments that gravely threatened the security of the country," the report said, using the acronym for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

Still, "the government has invariably maintained the principle that children represent the future of the country and are the king of the country," it said.

A panel of 18 international experts will examine the report and will pose questions to a North Korean government delegation during the open session, the U.N. committee said in statements.

The U.N. committee on the rights of children holds such sessions annually, with this year's meeting focusing on conditions in North Korea and five other countries, including the Congo and Malawi.

With non-governmental organizations in North Korea virtually nonexistent, the U.N. committee defers to international organizations to verify the North's claims.

North Korean defectors' organizations in South Korea recently flew to Geneva to provide their account of the human rights situation in North Korea.


N.K. Leader's Eldest Son Says He's Not Interested in Succession

BEIJING (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's first son, Kim Jong-nam, said on Jan. 24 that his father is the sole person who can decide on the succession of power in the socialist country, and he himself has no interest in becoming the country's leader.

"I myself have no interest," Kim Jong-nam, 38, said in a Beijing hotel. "That is for my father to decide."

Sources well-informed on North Korea recently said that Kim Jong-il, apparently driven by his poor health due to a suspected stroke last year, has designated his third son, Jong-un, as his successor and delivered a directive on the nomination to the Workers' Party leadership.

Jong-nam had long been considered the favorite to succeed his father until he was caught trying to enter Japan on a fake passport in 2001, reportedly telling Japanese officials he wanted to visit Disneyland in Tokyo.

The eldest son arrived in Beijing from Pyongyang by air along with a high-level Chinese party official, Wang Jiarui, who met with the North Korean leader in Pyongyang on Jan. 23, delivering a letter from Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Responding to reporters' questions on how Kim will decide on his successor, Kim Jong-nam said upon arrival at an airport in Beijing, "No one can say positively... only my father will decide." He was clad in a thick jumper, sunglasses and a cap, and answered questions in both English and Korean.

Jong-nam said that he had no information related to the report that Jong-un was tapped as his father's successor, telling reporters that "it is not right to make assumptions when nothing has been decided. When asked again, he told reporters to "ask that directly to my brother."

When asked by reporters whether he holds great influence in North Korea, he said, "That is not so." He also said that he cannot "answer such sensitive questions" when asked if he has won the support of his uncle, Jang Song-taek, who is Kim Jong-il's brother-in-law.

Jong-nam is reported to have won the support of Jang, director of the administrative department of the Workers' Party, in the competition to become the successor.

He is also speculated to have established connections with high-profile Chinese officials from his frequent trips to Beijing, which may contribute to the forming of stronger ties between the socialist allies.

"Don't just ask me (on the succession plan), ask Mr. Wang Jiarui too," the son said at the airport in an apparent effort to dodge further questions.

When asked about the state of his father's health, the son, who said he was in Beijing for personal matters, declined to comment on "such a sensitive issue."

"Please understand that I cannot disclose anything even if I have any information," the eldest son said, underlining that it is his principle to exercise discretion on his father's health.

He said that he plans to stay in Beijing for a couple of days for "personal leisure" and return to North Korea in a few weeks after spending some time in an undisclosed third country. The son also said that he had no plans to meet with Chinese officials during the stay.


Six-way Talks Essential to Ending N. Korean Nukes: Clinton

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Jan. 27 that the six-party talks are "essential" to ending North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions.

"With respect to North Korea, the six-party talks are essential," Clinton said in her first news briefing since taking office Jan. 22, adding the multilateral talks have been "a useful forum for participants to deal with the challenge of North Korea's nuclear program and the other issues that are part of the North Korean agenda."

The top U.S. diplomat did not dismiss the idea of dealing with the North bilaterally as well as through the six-party talks, saying, "We are going to pursue steps that we think are effective. And I think I will leave it at that."

Clinton was repeating the remarks she made at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, saying she will engage North Korea directly as well as through the six-party talks to address the socialist nation's alleged uranium-based nuclear program and suspected nuclear proliferation, as well as its declared plutonium-producing reactor.

She also said that she will employ "smart power" that "requires reaching out to both friends and adversaries to bolster old alliances and to forge new ones."

Clinton was echoing U.S. President Barack Obama's inaugural address pledge made last week, in which he said he will "work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat with old friends and former foes."

Obama said during his election campaign that he will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to address threats from North Korea. Pyongyang detonated its first nuclear device in 2006 and has test fired long-range missiles.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood said in a daily news briefing that what Clinton said was clear. "She said it's essential -- the six-party framework. And I think the word 'essential' basically tells you a lot."

Wood said that the Obama administration is reviewing its policy "with regard to North Korea and its nuclear weapons programs," but did not give a time frame for the review process.

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