*** FOREIGN TIPS
U.S. Urges N. Korea to Reverse Decision to Expel Int'l Inspectors
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United State on April 16 called on North Korea to reverse its decision to expel international inspectors from its nuclear facilities following the U.N. Security Council's condemnation of the North's recent rocket launch, warning of consequences.
"Reversing this decision would be the most immediate (thing) that we would like to see happen, and then of course, getting back to the six-party framework," State Department spokesman Robert Wood said.
North Korea has expelled several inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency and four American monitors are preparing to leave at the request of Pyongyang, which denounced the Security Council statement as an infringement on its sovereign right to launch a satellite into space.
"If we don't have our people on the ground, they're not able to monitor and observe what's happening, and that's deeply troubling to not only the United States but other members of the six-party talks and others in the international community," Wood said. "So that would be the ultimate priority right now; and then, of course, moving them back to the six-party framework."
The inspectors have been monitoring for years the disabling of North Korea's nuclear facilities under a six-party deal, which calls for the scrapping of the North's nuclear programs in return for hefty energy and economic aid and political benefits.
In a response to the adoption of the statement by the UN Security Council, North Korea on April 14 declared it will never again attend the six-party talks, will restart its disabled nuclear facilities and strengthen its nuclear deterrent.
The multilateral nuclear talks, which have been on and off since their inception in 2003, hit another snag in December over how to verify the North's nuclear activity.
Wood warned of consequences from the expulsion of inspectors. "The Security Council has spoken through that presidential statement, made very clear what is required of the North," the spokesman said. "Should the North not comply, then they will have to deal with the consequences of that decision."
Diplomacy Under Way to Free American Journalists Held in N. Korea
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- Diplomacy is under way to free two American journalists detained in North Korea for alleged illegal entry, the State Department said on April 17, amid reports that North Korea is seeking to use the case to establish bilateral contact.
"They are still there," State Department spokesman Robert Wood said. "We're working through a number of different diplomatic channels to try to see what we can do to get these folks released."
Some analysts say North Korea aims to contact the U.S. bilaterally rather than through the six-party talks amid escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula as a result of North Korea's rocket launch in early April. Talks on the journalists' release could conceivably broaden to include nuclear and missile issues.
North Korea said it will eschew the six-party talks on ending its nuclear programs in response to a U.N. Security Council rebuke for the launch, which Pyongyang says was a legitimate part of its space program.
The multilateral negotiations have been on and off since their inception in 2003, but some analysts say the door remains open to bilateral engagement with the new Barack Obama administration.
Stephen Bosworth, U.S. special representative for North Korea, has yet to make contact with the North, but has been working to restart the talks, Wood said.
Bosworth "has been having discussions with a number of different U.S. government entities about this," said the spokesman. "He's talked to the secretary about the issue."
Wood said on April 16 that Bosworth recently talked to the other parties to the six-party talks, excluding North Korea, on the detention and the rocket launch, without ruling out the possibility of the U.S. point man on North Korea flying to Pyongyang in the near future.
"I'm not going to rule out the fact that he may, at some point, travel," he said at that time. "But I don't have anything right now in terms of a travel schedule."
Wood said that the Swedish ambassador in Pyongyang visited the two journalists on March 30 and is seeking another visit for consular protection.
The Swedish embassy in the North handles consular affairs involving American citizens in North Korea as Washington does not have diplomatic relations with the reclusive communist state.
The reporters, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, from Current TV, a San Francisco-based Internet outlet, were taken by North Korean soldiers on March 17 along the Tumen River on the Chinese border while filming the North Korean side.
Civic Groups Urge N. Korea to Set Free S. Korean Detainee
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A group of 30 anti-North Korea civic groups in Seoul issued a statement on April 17, demanding the immediate release of a South Korean worker detained by the socialist country for nearly 20 days.
Pyongyang has been holding an employee of Hyundai Asan Corp., the developer of a joint industrial complex in the North's border town of Kaesong, since March 30, accusing him of criticizing its political system and trying to tempt a North Korean female worker to defect.
North Korea has repeatedly rejected the South Korean government's request for access to the Hyundai Asan employee, identified only by his family name Yu. He is believed to have been detained at a North Korean office in the Kaesong complex.
"North Korea has failed to announce any result of its probe into Yu and refused to allow Seoul officials to contact him," said the statement signed by the Citizen's Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Defectors and other civic groups campaigning for the human rights of the North Korean people.
"The North's behavior clearly violates the existing inter-Korean accords."
According to the written agreement on the joint industrial complex concluded in 2004, North Korea is obliged to guarantee security and basic rights for South Korean workers, including those under investigation by the North's authorities.
"The detention must have been politically motivated as North Korea intends to use it as a means of applying pressure in inter-Korean dialogue. The act is worse than illegal detention and tantamount to kidnapping of a South Korean citizen. The North will surely face an international backlash," said the statement.
The civic groups also said that they will lodge a petition with Seoul's human rights watchdog to demand an investigation into the communist regime's violations of the South Korean people's human rights.
S. Korea Capable of Counterattack against N. Korea: Defense Chief
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea's top defense official said on April 20 his country has the ability to retaliate in kind should North Korea provoke by assaulting Seoul with its artillery.
The comments by Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee came after North Korea warned on April 18 that "Seoul is just 50km away" from the border, apparently highlighting its ability to threaten the densely populated South Korean capital with its frontline armory.
"Even though Pyongyang is 150km from us, it is only a number, and numbers do not mean much," Lee told a parliamentary hearing. "Our military is ready to immediately retaliate under the combined readiness with the United States against any provocation."
About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against North Korea, and monitor the movement of North Korean artillery and other mechanized forces.
Lee said the possibility of North Korea provoking anywhere along the border continues, especially as the socialist country has warned of an armed conflict near their western sea border this year.
South Korea can effectively respond "whether North Korea provokes limited or full-scale warfare," Lee said.
North Korea has nearly 1.2 million troops while South Korea, considered better equipped, has 655,000 soldiers.
S. Korea Quizzes IAEA on Stance over N. Korea Nuclear Status
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean government officials were trying on April 21 to ascertain details behind reported comments by the top U.N. nuclear official that North Korea is a nuclear power.
Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said on April 20 that North Korea is a nuclear power, according to the German news agency DPA.
"North Korea has nuclear weapons, which is a matter of fact," he was quoted as saying on the sidelines of a ministerial meeting on nuclear energy in Beijing. "I don't like to accept any country as a nuclear weapons state," he said before adding, "We have to face reality."
North Korea conducted its first atomic test in 2006, and some media reports say it may be preparing for a second one.
The remarks by the outgoing IAEA chief, coming amid troubled efforts to end the North's nuclear program, touched off renewed questions about how the international community views the reclusive country's nuclear capability. ElBaradei is slated to retire in November, and the selection process to name his successor is under way.
"We have instructed our embassy in Vienna to find out whether his comments reflect the IAEA's official position," a foreign ministry official said.
The official also pointed out that the North would not be automatically acknowledged as a nuclear state despite the IAEA chief's comments as such designation is a matter of international law.
The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) categorizes only five countries -- the U.S., Russia, China, France, and Britain -- as nuclear powers. India, Pakistan and Israel are considered de facto nuclear states.
"Under the current NPT regime, North Korea cannot become a nuclear state," he said.
But experts say the U.S. may tacitly regard North Korea as a nuclear power at least militarily, albeit not politically and diplomatically.
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