*** NEWS IN BRIEF (Part 2)
N. Korea Says It Resumed Reprocessing Spent Nuclear Fuel Rods
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has restarted extracting plutonium from spent fuel rods in its major nuclear facility, the North said on April 25, in an apparent response to U.N. punishment for its April 5 rocket launch.
The announcement by the North's foreign ministry came just hours after the U.N. Security Council froze foreign assets of two firms and a bank in North Korea over their suspected ties to missile and nuclear programs.
"The reprocessing of spent fuel rods from the pilot atomic power plant began as declared in the Foreign Ministry statement dated April 14," a spokesman for the ministry said in an interview with the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
North Korea warned on April 14 that it was withdrawing from nuclear disarmament talks and would restore its major nuclear facility in Yongbyon in protest over the U.N. Security Council condemnation of its rocket launch.
Pyongyang says the U.N. action is unfair, as it was exercising its sovereign right to develop space with the launch. North Korea insists the launch was to put the Kwangmyongsong-2 satellite into orbit, while outside monitors say no such object has entered space.
The unidentified spokesman for the North's foreign ministry said the reprocessing of spent fuel rods "will contribute to bolstering the nuclear deterrence for self-defense in every way to cope with the increasing military threats from the hostile forces."
North Korea tested a nuclear device in 2006, but after a landmark agreement in 2007, it began disabling its Yongbyon nuclear facility later that year. In response, the U.S. removed the North from its list of terrorism-sponsoring nations in October last year.
But the six-party talks hit a snag late last year over how to verify North Korea's past nuclear activities.
N. Korean Foreign Minister Leaves for Cuba to Attend Int'l Meeting
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's foreign minister embarked on a trip to Cuba on April 25 to attend an international meeting of non-aligned countries, the North's state media reported.
Pak Ui-chun will participate in the ministerial meeting of the Coordination Bureau of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries, the North's Korean Central News Agency said. The meeting will be held in Havana, Cuba's capital, from April 27 through 30.
The Non-Aligned Movement, consisting of more than 120 nations, is an international organization of countries that are unaligned with or aligned against major Western powers. The ministerial meeting serves as a preparation for a summit of leaders of those countries set for July 11-16 in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has never traveled abroad for international meetings other than bilateral events.
The North Korean report said Pak will also visit some Latin American countries, but did not name them or specify how long the visits will be.
N.K. Airs Rare Report on Sentencing of U.S. Journalist in Iran
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea belatedly broadcast a report on April 25 on the sentencing of a U.S. journalist convicted of espionage in Iran, one day after it said it will try two American journalists being held in the North on similar charges.
It was the first time the reclusive North reported on the case in Iran, whose court sentenced the U.S. reporter to an eight-year prison term on April 18. The report was carried by the North's state-owned radio, the Korean Central Broadcasting Station.
The two female U.S. journalists being held in North Korea were arrested March 17 after they accidentally crossed the China-North Korea border while trying to produce a report on defectors from the North and life in the communist nation.
"A competent organ of the DPRK concluded the investigation into the journalists of the United States. The organ formally decided to refer them to a trial on the basis of the confirmed crimes committed by them," the North's Korean Central News Agency reported on April 24, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
The journalists are Korean-American Euna Lee and Chinese-American Laura Ling, who both work for the San Francisco-based Internet outlet Current TV.
If they are convicted of espionage, they could face up to 20 years in prison under the North's criminal code, which imposes harsh punishments for illegal entry into the country.
North Korea Raps Japan over Stalled Nuclear Talks
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea blasted Japan on April 28 for passing the blame over stalled nuclear disarmament talks, insisting Tokyo is responsible for the deadlock by not fulfilling its obligations.
The criticism came in response to Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura, who a day earlier denounced Pyongyang's reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel rods as "not constructive" and urged the country to return to the six-party talks.
"Lurking behind his outbursts is a sinister intention to mislead the public opinion in a bid to evade their blame for bringing the talks to collapse, shift the responsibility onto the DPRK (North Korea)," North Korea's Cabinet newspaper Minju Joson said in a commentary.
The nuclear talks grouping the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia have been in limbo since late last year due to disputes over how to verify Pyongyang's past nuclear activity. Tension spiked markedly after North Korea's rocket launch on April 5, which led to a series of punitive reactions from the international community.
The U.N. Security Council adopted a presidential statement condemning the launch, prompting Pyongyang to withdraw from the six-party talks in protest.
Kawamura said in a press conference that Japan will fulfill U.N. sanctions and closely work with the U.S. to push the nuclear talks forward.
North Korea accused the Japanese government of politicizing its rocket launch to fend off internal criticism. Japan also failed to provide its share of energy aid promised to Pyongyang under a six-party deal and linked its aid to an abduction issue "irrelevant" to the nuclear negotiations, the newspaper said.
"Whenever the talks opened, Japan raised issues completely irrelevant to the talks, deliberately throwing obstacles in their way and making desperate efforts to bring the talks to collapse," it said.
Japan has said it will provide its share of the 1 million tons of energy aid only after North Korea's past abductions of its citizens is accounted for.
North Korea's party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, accused Japan of attempting to go nuclear and said the move compels Pyongyang to "further bolster the nuclear deterrent." The paper cited recent controversial remarks by Japanese lawmaker and former Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa, who said his nation should consider possessing nuclear weapons as a deterrent to a possible attack from North Korea, a suggestion later dismissed by Kawamura.
North Korean Army General Visits Vietnam
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A top political officer of the North Korean army left Pyongyang for a trip to Vietnam on April 28, the North's official news media said.
Gen. Kim Jong-gak, first-vice director of the General Political Bureau of the (North) Korean People's Army (KPA), is leading a delegation of the army's political officers, the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
However, it did not mention the length or objective of the visit.
Sources say Kim, who assumed the post in October 2007, is acting on behalf of Jo Myong-rok, head of the KPA General Political Bureau and first-vice chairman of the National Defense Commission (NDC), who reportedly cannot function because of old age and illness.
Kim was named an NDC member during the first plenary session of the 12th-term Supreme People's Assembly, the North's rubber-stamp parliament, held in Pyongyang on April 9.
North Korea opened ties with Vietnam in January 1950. But relations turned sour after the North's open criticism of Vietnam's attack of Cambodia in 1979. Relations further worsened when Vietnam forged diplomatic relations with South Korea in 1992.
The communist nations restored ties through visits of their top leaders. The North's ceremonial head of state Kim Yong-nam visited Vietnam in July 2001, and Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong visited North Korea in May 2002.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il greeted Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh at the Pyongyang airport when he visited North Korea last October. There have been frequent exchange visits of military, economic and cultural delegations in recent years.
North Korea Reaffirms Boycott of Nuclear Talks
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea will make good on its pledge to quit the multilateral disarmament talks and bolster its nuclear deterrence despite sanctions from the United Nations, the country's leading newspaper said April 29.
"We state again that our country will no longer enter into the six-way talks and will strengthen nuclear deterrence power in every way," Rodong Sinmun, published by the North's powerful Workers' Party, said in a commentary carried by the country's official news agency. "Under current situations, we are not interested in the six-way talks any more."
The commentary said that the international community's punishment of North Korea's rocket launch reminded it of the importance of beefing up its self-defense measures.
It said the six-way talks lost all reason to exist after the U.N. Security Council issued a presidential statement condemning the April 5 rocket launch. It called the U.N. move a violation of the spirit of a historic aid-for-denuclearization deal signed on Sept. 19 2005 that calls for respecting the sovereignty of each nation. Under the six-way agreement, North Korea promised to abandon its nuclear program in return for economic and political incentives.
"In the unjust and unstable world today, whose international law, relations, and order are swayed by power, we can defend our sovereignty and show dignity and prowess only through defensive nuclear deterrence capability," it added, accusing the U.S., Japan, and other nations of attempting to draw concessions from Pyongyang through increased pressure and sanctions.
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