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All Headlines 11:03 May 21, 2009


U.S. Has Provided $1.28 Bln in Aid to N. Korea Since 1994: Report

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States has provided US$1.28 billion in energy, food and other aid to North Korea since 1994, when the countries reached an agreement to freeze North Korea's plutonium-producing facilities, a recent report shows.

Food aid accounted for the lion's share, with 2.25 million tons worth $706 million, according to the Congressional Research Service report.

So far in fiscal year 2009, which began in October, the U.S. has shipped 21,000 tons of food to the North in humanitarian aid, the report said.

The shipments stopped in March, when North Korea expelled U.S. and other international monitors amid worsening relations and threats by the North to boycott the six-party talks on ending its nuclear programs.

Another large part of the investment, $403.7 million, was spent on the construction of two light-water reactors being built under the 1994 Geneva Agreed Framework.

The agreement calls for the provision of 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil to the North in exchange for Pyongyang freezing its reactors, which are capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium.

A total of $146 million worth of heavy fuel oil has been provided to the North since 1994 under the framework and ensuing six-party talks. The U.S. has provided 200,000 tons of heavy fuel oil worth $146 million.

An additional $20 million has been funneled to the North to help disable nuclear facilities under the six-party process.

The U.S. has also provided medical supplies and other necessities worth $9.4 million.


U.S. Has 30 Interceptors targeting N. Korean Missiles: Gates

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States has 30 ground-based interceptors targeting missiles from North Korea, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said on May 14.

"The advice that I got is, first of all, that system really is only capable against North Korea, and that 30 interceptors at the level of capability that North Korea has now and is likely to have for some years to come, 30 interceptors in fact provide a strong defense against North Korea in this respect," Gates told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

He was explaining the Barack Obama administration's plans to cut back the budget for an increase of the interceptors to 44.

"The decision not to go to 44 interceptors at this point does not mean we'll never go to 44 interceptors, or at least more than 30," he said. "It's just that, over the period of the next few years, we don't see the need to go to the additional interceptors, given the pace at which North Korea is developing its program."

Gates' remarks come amid escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula after North Korea launched a rocket on April 5, leading the U.N. Security Council to sanction three North Korean firms involved in the trade of parts of missiles and other weapons of mass destruction.

North Korea insists the launch put a satellite into space, but the U.S. and its allies see it as a cover for a ballistic missile test.

In response to the U.N. action, North Korea withdrew from the six-party nuclear talks and threatened to conduct further nuclear and missile tests and restart its disabled atomic facilities unless the security council apologizes.

General Walter Sharp, commander of U.S. troops in South Korea, told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in March that North Korea has been "fielding a new intermediate-range ballistic missile capable of striking Okinawa, Guam and Alaska, and continues to develop and mature systems with an intercontinental range capability,"

He also said at the time that North Korea "views its ballistic missile programs as a source of prestige, a strategic deterrent, a means of exerting regional influence and a source of hard currency."

Gates, meanwhile, did not rule out the possibility of increasing the number of the interceptors in the future. "I see this as not a static process where we have a finite testing period and then stop and just have the status quo for an extended period of time, but rather a dynamic process where we are continually updating and improving the capabilities of those ground-based interceptors."

The defense secretary said U.S. will add six Aegis-equipped missile defense ships to guard against missiles in their terminal phase, he said.

"We max-out the theater high-altitude area defense (THAAD), which is a terminal defense," he said. "We max-out the inventory build of SM-3 missiles, Standard Missile-3. And so I think we're in pretty good shape on the terminal side, and we're adding to those capabilities."

The THAAD system was designed to destroy ballistic missiles approaching U.S. cities and military assets.


N.K. Disappointment in Fight against Chemical Weapons: World Body

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The top world body on the use of chemical weapons expressed disappointment on May 15 at North Korea, which remains one of only two Asian countries that refuse to join an international treaty banning such arms.

The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) also appealed to Pyongyang to sign the 1997 treaty "as a matter of urgency and without preconditions."

"The OPCW is disappointed at the lack of interaction with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK/ North Korea), which together with Myanmar remain the only two countries in Asia that have not joined the Chemical Weapons Convention," Michael Luhan, a spokesman, said via e-mail.

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is implemented by the OPCW and remains to be signed by just eight countries, including North Korea, Israel, Syria and Egypt.

North Korea, which shares one of the world's most fortified borders with South Korea, is estimated to have up to 5,000 tons of chemical-warfare agents, according to the defense ministry in Seoul.

The amount makes North Korea one of the world's largest possessors of such arms, considered weapons of mass destruction, along with its nuclear devices and ballistic missiles.

Luhan said his organization has yet to secure the right to inspect the North Korean stockpile of chemical weapons, but voiced optimism the country will eventually become a member of the CWC.

"As the DPRK is not a state party to the convention, we have no legal mandate to conduct inspections on its territory and hence cannot assess its possible activities in this area," Luhan said.

"We are optimistic that the DPRK will recognize the many benefits from joining the convention and engage with the OPCW to being that process," he said.


North Korea's 2008 Trade Hits Record US$3.8 Bln: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's international trade, excluding that with South Korea, hit a record US$3.8 billion last year, a report said on May 18.

Trade with the reclusive state jumped 29.7 percent compared with 2007, the Seoul-based Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency said in the report.

Last year, North Korea's exports rose 23 percent to $1.13 billion with imports climbing 32.7 percent to $2.69 billion, the report said. The country still posted a trade deficit of $1.56 billion for the year.

The report also showed that China's influence on North Korea's moribund economy is rising quickly. The Stalinist state exported $750 million worth of goods to China and imported $2.03 billion worth from the neighbor last year.

"North Korea's trade with China hit a record last year and is continuing to grow," the report said, adding its trade with other nations will likely shrink due to the worldwide economic crisis.

Inter-Korean relations have remained icy since South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office in early 2008 pledging to get tough on the North over its nuclear program. Seoul has halted shipments of food and other aid to Pyongyang.

Tensions have mounted further since North Korea fired a rocket on April 5, drawing a unanimous condemnation from the U.N. Security Council. The North responded by expelling foreign nuclear inspectors and quitting the six-party denuclearization talks.


Mullen Calls on N. Korea Not to Conduct 2nd Nuclear Test

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The top U.S. military officer on May 17 urged North Korea to refrain from conducting another nuclear test or any other provocative acts that might further isolate the communist state.

Speaking to a forum at the Brookings Institution, Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, however, would not predict whether North Korea will actually detonate another nuclear device in the near future, after testing one in 2006.

"There are reports that he's considering nuclear tests, and I wouldn't confirm or deny those one way or the other," Mullen said of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. "It's worrisome, because he has nuclear weapons."

"North Korea is all alone, and the leadership there continues to make decisions which further isolate North Korea from the rest of the world," he said. "It's not a new strategy, because it's something that he's done over time. But all that speaks to the constancy of how he approaches the world, which is one that further and further isolates him."

North Korea has threatened to conduct further nuclear and ballistic missile tests in protest against the U.N. Security Council's sanctioning of three North Korean firms after the country's April 5 rocket launch, which Pyongyang insists orbited a satellite.

The North also said it will boycott the six-party denuclearization talks and restart its disabled atomic facilities to enhance its arsenal in preparation for possible attacks from the U.S. and its allies.

Mullen stressed the need for the U.S. to join forces with the other parties in the multilateral talks -- South Korea, China, Russia and Japan -- to persuade the North to come back to the negotiating table.

"I would hope that we could engage with him in a way, whoever 'we' would be -- the United States, six-party talks, whatever the right, you know, the totality of the engagement would be -- to move him off his more and more belligerent stance, because it can be very, very dangerous, and that's what I worry about."


N. Korea's Pointman on Inter-Korean Relations Executed: Sources

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea executed its pointman on South Korea last year, holding him responsible for poor relations with Seoul's new conservative government, which ditched a decade-old policy of engaging Pyongyang, sources said on May 18.

Choe Sung-chol, who as vice chairman of the North's Asia-Pacific Peace Committee had pushed for bold reconciliation with Seoul's previous liberal governments, disappeared from public sight early last year amid reports that he was fired.

Rumors spread in January that he was forced to work at a chicken farm. But a number of sources privy to North Korean internal affairs told Yonhap News Agency that Choe was executed after being blamed for the poor state of inter-Korean relations.

North Korean authorities ostensibly accused Choe of corruption, but their real intent was to punish the dovish official for the questionable outcome of the past decade of reconciliation with the South, the sources said.

"Despite hardliners' objections, Mr. Choe had strongly pushed for progress in relations with the South under Seoul's Roh Moo-hyun government," one source said. "But inter-Korean relations deteriorated after the government change in the South, and he was blamed for the 'misjudgments.'"

Choe, also a deputy director of the inter-Korean department at the Workers' Party, came into the public spotlight in 2007 when he escorted then South Korean President Roh throughout his visit to Pyongyang for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. He is also known to have played a key role in arranging the summit and briefed Kim personally.

Another source said the North Korean government held him accountable for the unwanted impact from North Korea's dependence on the capitalist South, which had grown with economic exchanges.

Pyongyang also punished Choe for planting fantasies about South Korea in North Korean society, the source said.

Seoul's Ministry of Unification earlier acknowledged Choe's dismissal, but could not confirm his whereabouts or why he was sacked.

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