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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 43 (February 26, 2009)

All Headlines 11:08 February 26, 2009


N. Korean Leader's Youngest Son to Acquire Parliamentary Post

BEIJING (Yonhap) - The youngest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has registered as a candidate in the secretive country's upcoming parliamentary elections, informed sources in Beijing said on Feb. 19, it what could be a decisive step towards a power transfer.

After the March 8 vote, North Korea will officially promote Kim Jong-un, who turned 26 in January, as the successor of leader Kim Jong-il, according to the sources, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Kim Jong-un's registration "has been confirmed," one of the sources said, adding "the process of a power transfer is now fully in the works."

North Korea holds direct elections to choose Supreme People's Assembly officials, but Workers' Party candidates are all but guaranteed 100 percent voter approval. Pyongyang typically announces the list of its new lawmakers shortly after the election.

Cheong Seong-chang, a specialist on North Korean power succession at the independent Sejong Institute, said Kim Jong-un's registration, if confirmed, will accelerate the succession process.

Jong-un will likely also be elected as a member in the National Defense Commission, the backbone of the North's 1.2-million-strong military, which is chaired by his father, Cheong said.

"A lawmaker's post has no power, but it is symbolically significant in that the post is given to those who are considered important contributors to the party and the nation," Cheong said.

"For the North Korean power elite, it's essential to hold a lawmaker's post in addition to other high positions," he said.

Speculation over a power succession has mounted amid lingering skepticism about the leader's health. The North's parliament bypassed its election last autumn and Kim Jong-il did not appear at an important party anniversary in September, lending credence to reports he suffered a stroke in August.


N. Korea May Try to Provoke S. Korea in Unexpected Manner

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea may try to jolt South Korea with an unexpected provocation along their shared border, Seoul's chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said on Feb. 19.

"We expect various scenarios of North Korean provocation, including at the NLL," Kim Thae-young said at a parliamentary hearing.

Kim expressed confidence, however, that South Korea and the U.S. are fully prepared for any contingency, saying the two sides are meeting daily "at daybreak" to share and assess their intelligence.

North Korea recently stepped up its coercive rhetoric against South Korea and warned of an armed clash near the U.N.-drawn Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the Yellow Sea -- the site of bloody naval clashes in 1999 and 2002.

Pyongyang recently nullified all of its military agreements with Seoul and is moving forward with a rocket launch it claims is aimed at putting a satellite into orbit. South Korean intelligence officials suspect the North actually intends to test-fire a long-range missile capable of reaching Alaska or Hawaii.

About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against the North, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty.


Six-way Meeting on Peace Regime Opens in Moscow

MOSCOW (Yonhap) -- North Korea and its five dialogue partners in the often troubled six-nation nuclear talks began a two-day meeting of working-level officials in Moscow on Feb. 19 to discuss peace and security in Northeast Asia.

The meeting was aimed at exploring ways of bringing lasting peace to the region. Russia has already presented a second draft of proposed guiding principles, organizers said.

"A draft of the guiding principles of peace was drawn up as the first step in forming this mechanism. It was dispatched to all the participants in the 'sextet,'" Grigory Loginov, the ambassador at large at the Russian Foreign Ministry, told Russian news agency Itar-Tass.

Russia chairs the forum in the framework of the broader six-party talks, which also involving the U.S., China, Japan and the two Koreas.

Another four working groups are designed to discuss energy assistance for North Korea, denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, normalizing North Korea-U.S. relations and normalizing North Korea-Japan ties.

This week's gathering set the stage for the first government-level contact among the six nations since U.S. President Barack Obama's inauguration.

Delegates expect no immediate tangible outcome from the meeting, as the six-way talks among higher-level envoys remain stalled over how to inspect North Korea's nuclear facilities.
South Korea was represented by Hur Chul, director general of the foreign ministry's Korean Peninsula peace regime bureau.


North Korea Food Supply Short 1 Million Tons

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's food supply will fall 1.17 million tons short of demand this year, Seoul's Unification Ministry said on Feb. 19.

North Korea produced 4.31 million tons of grain last year, up 7 percent from the previous year thanks to improved weather conditions.

But the country likely needs 5.48 million tons to feed its 2.4 million people, the ministry said in a report submitted to the National Assembly's foreign affairs, trade and unification committee.

The report also suggested that China take a more dominant role in shaping the North Korean economy. North Korea's trade with China surged by 41.2 percent to US$2.78 billion last year, while inter-Korean trade slowed to US$1.82 billion, up a mere 1.2 percent amid frozen relations, it said.

Strained economic conditions are pushing North Korea back into its old ways, according to the report.

"Since late last year, North Korea has tightened social control and emphasized past means of managing state affairs," it said.

Pyongyang intensified propaganda to stem the inflow of the capitalist culture, it said, and restored a post-war reconstruction campaign first launched in the 1950s to "solve food problems by our own efforts" and rebuild its frail infrastructure.

North Korea expanded street markets, raised wages and carried out deregulation to jump-start its frail economy in 2002, but runaway inflation and international trade sanctions on the socialist state have crippled its efforts towards marketization, according to a Seoul think tank.

"Since 2006, North Korea has begun partially controlling the market, and the control has further strengthened since 2008," the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul recently said in a report.


S. Korea Will Respond to Armed Provocations: Defense Official

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea will sternly respond to any preemptive attack by North Korea along the disputed maritime border in the Yellow Sea, Seoul's defense chief said on Feb. 20.

"We will clearly respond to any preemptive artillery or missile attack by North Korea," Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee said at a parliamentary hearing, vowing to strike the military installations from where the attacks originate.

Lee made the remarks after a ruling party lawmaker asked how the South Korean military would react if North Korea attacked one of its vessels along the western sea border, which Pyongyang claims should be drawn further south.

"We will take preventive measures if a missile attack is launched by the enemy, and the (North Korean) locations where a missile launch originated would be hit," said the minister.

North Korea recently stepped up its harsh rhetoric against South Korea and warned of an armed clash near the U.N.-drawn Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the Yellow Sea -- the site of bloody naval clashes in 1999 and 2002. The NLL was unilaterally drawn by the U.S.-led U.N. Command at the end of the Korean War.

Lee, however, said the authorities would not allow a military response to escalate into an all-out war. "We will counter (a Northern military offensive) with an equal amount of force in the shortest period of time to prevent a full-blown war," Lee explained.


North Korea Rejects U.N. Envoy: Source

NEW YORK (Yonhap) -- A plan to send a United Nations special envoy to North Korea next month has been called off due to the isolated country's unwillingness to hold dialogue at this time, a U.S. diplomatic source said on Feb. 21.

A group of U.N. delegates led by Lynn Pascoe, U.N. undersecretary-general for political affairs, had planned to visit Pyongyang in early March but North Korea has rejected the offer, the source told Yonhap News Agency.

The appointment of the high-profile figure as special envoy to North Korea has been viewed as a sign that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is moving to take a greater role in dealing with Pyongyang's reported plans to test-fire a ballistic missile.

Intelligence officials said North Korea appears to be preparing a test launch of its long-range Taepodong-2 missile, which is supposedly capable of reaching the western United States.

The move has worsened already frayed ties between the two Koreas.

The source could not confirm why Pyongyang refused to accept the envoy but said that the suspected missile test might be one of the reasons.

A separate source at the U.N. denied that the North rejected the envoy, saying the U.N. and Pyongyang are still in talks to decide the best time to dispatch the delegates.

He added that the U.N. is reluctant to directly address the North Korean nuclear issue because the six-nation talks -- involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia -- are still in progress.

Pascoe will, meanwhile, manage other pertinent political and diplomatic issues involving Pyongyang, as well as humanitarian aid, he said.

Secretary-General Ban said in January he would send a high ranking official to the North to report on the situation there.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had named Maurice Strong as his North Korean envoy, but the global body has yet to send a representative to the isolated country since Strong stepped down from the post due to a lobbying scandal in 2005.


Bosworth to Lead U.S. Delegation to Future Six-way Talks

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- Stephen Bosworth, U.S. special representative for North Korea, will lead the U.S. delegation at future six-party talks on ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions, the State Department said on Feb. 23.

The creating of a special post on North Korea reflects a sharp departure from the Bush administration, under which the multilateral negotiations were led by assistant secretary of state Christopher Hill.

"Ambassador Bosworth is the lead for the United States," deputy spokesman Gordon Duguid said, quelling speculation that Sung Kim, special envoy for the six-party talks, would lead the U.S. delegation at future rounds that had arisen because Bosworth intends to keep his job as a college dean in Massachusetts.

In announcing the appointment of Bosworth last week, the State Department said Bosworth will work concurrently as the special representative "handling North Korea issues, reporting to the secretary of state, as well as to the president."

Bosworth, the department said, will "coordinate the overall U.S. government effort" in the North Korean issues, while Sung Kim will "handle the day-to-day contacts and discussions with our six-party colleagues."

Despite the assertion by the State Department that the special representative is "a full-time position" and that his job "will not be any diminution of the responsibilities that previous special representatives have had," doubts have lingered over Bosworth's status due mainly to his position as dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Some say that Bosworth's somewhat awkward status derives from a poor prognosis for the six-party talks, last held in December. Critics say almost all options have been exhausted with regard to North Korea's nuclear program since negotiations began in the early 1990s.

Reports said that Wendy Sherman, a former North Korea policy coordinator under the Clinton administration, rejected Obama's offer to take the post.

Hill, who doubled as Washington's chief nuclear negotiator, reportedly did not have enough time to carry out his responsibilities for the Asia and Pacific region because of the heavy workload on the North Korean nuclear issue.

Another State Department official said that Bosworth has not yet established his office at the State Department, adding, "It will take a little while."

Officials and experts said that he will start work only after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appoints a new assistant secretary of state, probably Kurt Campbell, who is currently chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), with whom Bosworth will coordinate policy on North Korea.


N. Korean Father-to-Son Succession Possible: Intelligence Chief

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea's intelligence chief said on Feb. 25 that another father-to-son power transfer in North Korea appears "possible," and that North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, is in fully in charge but has "not fully recovered" from his suspected stroke.

Rumors of the succession mounted after Kim reportedly fell ill last August. Kim, 67, who took over after his father and North Korea's founder Kim Il-sung died in 1994, has yet to publicly announce who will be his heir.

"A three-generation succession appears to be possible," Won Sei-hoon, chief of the National Intelligence Service, was quoted as saying in a closed-door parliamentary briefing.

Won's remarks, disclosed by Rep. Lee Choul-woo of the ruling Grand National Party and Rep. Park Young-sun of the main opposition Democratic Party, were the first reference by a senior Seoul official to the future of the socialist regime. A spokesman from the intelligence agency confirmed that the remarks "are true."

Concerning Kim's health, the intelligence chief said, "He has not fully recovered, but he appears to have no big trouble doing business."

His comment was less optimistic than what Seoul officials have so far said. Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun said earlier in the day that Kim "appears to be healthy," making two more inspection tours this year than he did in previous years. Since the weekend, Kim has been touring the country's northernmost Hamgyong Province, coinciding with rocket launch preparations in the region.

Concerning Yonhap's report last week that the third and youngest son, Kim Jong-un, has registered as a candidate for the March 8 parliamentary elections in nascent succession process, the intelligence chief said the report "doesn't seem to be credible, considering the process and the time needed for registration."

When one of Kim's three sons takes over, the new leader will have weaker control than his father, Won added.

Informed sources told Yonhap last month that Kim, apparently driven by his health condition, had named 26-year-old Jong-un as his heir. Jong-un was born to Kim's third wife, Ko Yong-hi, who died of breast cancer at the age of 51 in 2004.

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