*** FOREIGN TIPS
U.S. Weighs Putting N. Korea Back on Blacklist: State Dept.
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The U.S. said on April 30 it was reviewing North Korea's status as a terrorism sponsor and will decide whether to put the socialist state back on its blacklist.
"The State Department is in the process of reviewing the DPRK's (North Korea's) status as what they call a not-fully-cooperating country," Ronald Schlicher, acting coordinator of counterterrorism at the State Department, said at a news briefing to mark the release of the department's annual country reports on terrorism.
The list currently does not include North Korea, formally known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"That review is part of a broader process of identifying the countries not fully cooperating," Schlicher said. "And decisions in that whole process, including North Korea, should be coming in the next few weeks."
The previous Bush administration took North Korea off the list in October following a verbal agreement to allow sampling at its nuclear complex, which it later denied.
Pyongyang, however, refused to agree to a verification protocol for its nuclear facilities at the latest round of the six-party talks in December.
North Korea recently said it would "never" again attend the talks, fuming over the U.N. Security Council's rebuke of the North's recent rocket launch, which Pyongyang insists orbited a satellite.
Schlicher, however, said that the launch has nothing to do with the terrorism list.
"Actually, we would not connect the launching of the missile with the question of terrorism," he said. "Obviously, the launching of the missile is a matter of grave concern. But we don't think that's it's specifically a counterterrorism issue."
The annual report said that North Korea "was not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987."
The U.S. "rescinded the designation of the DPRK as a state sponsor of terrorism in accordance with criteria set forth in U.S. law, including a certification that the government of North Korea had not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six-month period and the provision by the government of assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future," the report said.
U.S. to Withhold Aid to N. Korea Until Progress in Nuke Talks
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on April 30 that the U.S. government will not provide economic aid to North Korea unless Pyongyang stops making nuclear and missile threats and returns to the six-party nuclear disarmament talks.
"We have absolutely no interest and no willingness on the part of this administration to give them any economic aid at all," Clinton told a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. "They are digging themselves into a deeper and deeper hole with the international community."
She was addressing North Korea's announcement it was quitting the six-party talks, restarting its nuclear facilities and had plans to enhance its nuclear arsenal in defiance of the U.N. Security Council's condemnation of its recent missile test.
The U.N. has also placed embargoes on three North Korean firms involved in the trade of parts for missiles and other weapons of mass destruction.
North Korea had been disabling its nuclear facilities under a now-endangered six-party deal.
Obama Expresses Concerns over Americans Detained in N. Korea
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Barack Obama on May 1 expressed concerns about American journalists and detained in North Korea for alleged espionage.
The U.S. is "especially concerned about the citizens from our own country currently under detention abroad: individuals such as Roxana Saberi in Iran, and Euna Lee and Laura Ling in North Korea," Obama said in a statement to mark World Press Freedom Day.
North Korea said last week that it had concluded an investigation and will formally refer the American journalists to trial for "confirmed crimes."
North Korea did not elaborate, but it had previously charged the journalists with illegal entry and "hostile acts."
Lee and Ling, from Current TV, a San Francisco-based Internet outlet, face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of espionage under the North Korean criminal code, unlike illegal entry, which is punishable by a few years' imprisonment.
The journalists were reportedly taken by North Korean soldiers March 17 along the Tumen River on the Chinese border while filming the North Korean side.
N. Korea among 13 Worst Countries in Religious Freedom
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- An independent U.S. commission on May 1 listed North Korea and 12 other countries as the worst in terms of religious freedom.
In an annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said North Korea "continues to be one of the world's most repressive regimes, where dissent is not tolerated and few protections exist for fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience and religion."
The other countries are Burma, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
North Korea has been on the State Department's list of "countries of specific concern" since 2001. The bipartisan commission was appointed by the U.S. president and the Senate and House of Representatives under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act.
The report said that North Korea's religious institutions are "tightly controlled and employed primarily to gain the government foreign assistance from overseas religious groups and NGOs."
The North's National Security Agency directly controls churches, temples and other religious facilities, the report said, adding, "Other public and private religious activity is prohibited and anyone discovered engaging in clandestine religious practice faces official discrimination, arrest, imprisonment and possibly execution."
The report also expressed concern over "forced repatriation of North Koreans from China."
"Refugees attest that those viewed to have religious beliefs or to have extensive contact with South Korean religious groups are treated more harshly than other inmates," the report said.
It urged the U.S. government to persuade China to "ensure that the return of any migrants pursuant to any bilateral agreement does not violate China's obligations" under various human rights conventions to which China is a signatory.
The committee also called on China to allow access to North Korean refugees seeking asylum abroad by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and international humanitarian organizations to secure their safety.
N. Korea Has Small Nuclear Arsenal But Lacks Deployment Ability
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea possesses "a small nuclear arsenal" but may have yet to develop the capability to deploy weapons, according to a recent U.S. report.
"North Korea has already built a small nuclear arsenal and shows no signs of being willing to negotiate it away," said the report, co-authored by former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry, who served as U.S. Secretary of Defense under President Bill Clinton from 1994-1997.
But the isolated state, which tested an atomic device in October 2006, "may not have the ability to deploy nuclear weapons," it said.
The report was published last month by the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent U.S. think tank based in New York.
U.S. and South Korean officials say North Korea has enough plutonium stockpiled to create up to six nuclear bombs, but they refuse to categorize it as a nuclear state.
Experts are split on whether the 2006 nuclear test was a success because it is believed to have resulted in a yield of just 1kt. By comparison, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima produced an explosion of about 15kt.
North Korea recently threatened it would conduct another nuclear test if the United Nations Security Council fails to withdraw its condemnation of Pyongyang's April 5 rocket launch.
The report, also chaired by former U.S. National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, urged Washington to engage in "aggressive diplomacy" to revive multilateral talks aimed at ending the nuclear pursuit.
The negotiations, which also include South Korea, Japan, Russia and China, have been stalled for months, while North Korea recently declared them "defunct" in anger over the U.N. action.
"Any chance of success with North Korea and Iran will require aggressive diplomacy that fully involves the Obama administration in close cooperation with other relevant international actors," the report said.
N. Korea Has Cyber War Unit Targeting S. Korean, U.S. Military
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea operates a cyber warfare unit that seeks to disrupt South Korean and U.S. military networks and visits U.S. military sites more frequently than any other country, intelligence sources in Seoul said on May 5.
The General Staff of the North's Korean People's Army has been operating for years a "technology reconnaissance team," which is exclusively in charge of collecting information and disrupting military computer networks in South Korea and the U.S., the sources said on condition of anonymity.
Roughly 100 hackers, mostly graduates of a leading military academy in Pyongyang, work on the team, hacking into South Korean and U.S. computer networks, withdrawing classified information and creating combat simulations, they said.
"This unit tries to hold control of South Korean and U.S. military information system by hacking into their computer networks and taking out classified data. When necessary, they may spread computer viruses to disrupt the networks," one of the sources said.
After years of tracking which countries access U.S. military Web sites and networks, the U.S. military has found that users inside North Korea logged on most frequently.
The North Korean unit has also written war-simulation software for training and stored extensive data on South Korean high-ranking military personnel, according to the sources.
South Korea and the U.S. signed a memorandum of understanding on April 30 to bolster cooperation in fighting cyber terrorism against their defense networks.
The U.S. maintains 28,500 troops in the South as a deterrent against North Korea.
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