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All Headlines 10:23 June 11, 2009


UNICEF Aid Flowing Steady in N. Korea: Pyongyang Chief

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The U.N. children's agency said on June 3 its humanitarian aid operations in North Korea remain steady amid diplomatic tensions, and that Pyongyang will soon sign an agreement to allow a nationwide nutritional survey.

"The situation with regard to access and monitoring is the same as it has been in the past," Gopalan Balagopal, UNICEF representative in Pyongyang, said in an email interview.

"UNICEF undertakes regular field visits to monitor progress of work and holds periodic review meetings with counterparts," he said.

As part of efforts to improve the health of North Korean children and mothers, the agency will soon sign an agreement with the North Korean government to conduct a nutritional survey across the country, set to start in October, Balagopal said.

"We are finalizing a memorandum of understanding with the government shortly for going ahead with a multiple indicator cluster survey, which will have a nutrition component," he said.

Another aid agency, the U.N. Development Program, is also preparing to restart its program in North Korea after a two-year hiatus, he said. Four UNDP members came to Pyongyang on May 19, and two of them are staying there, keeping "busy with work for restarting their program," Balagopal said.

UNDP withdrew from Pyongyang in early 2007 after suspicions arose over North Korea's misappropriation of development funds.

June is a typically lean period in the North in terms of food security, and UNICEF is seeing increasing numbers of malnourished children in nurseries and hospitals, according to the official.

North Korea's harvest this year is expected to fall 1.17 million tons short of food needed to feed its 24 million people, according to the Seoul government. Even if the North's own imports and Chinese aid are counted in, the net shortage will likely surpass 500,000 tons, it said.

Balagopal said his agency has secured about half of its US$13 million target budget for operations in North Korea this year.


Kim's Failing Health Prompting N. Korean Power Transfer to Son

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il appears to be quickening the power transfer to his son because of his "worsening" health condition, Seoul's unification minister said on June 4, a rare official comment on the issue that has drawn much speculation.

Hyun In-taek, however, reaffirmed his ministry's position that there is no solid evidence to confirm Kim's third and youngest son, Jong-un, is the heir.

"If Kim Jong-il had not suffered a stroke, the issue of power succession might have not emerged as promptly as we are witnessing it today," Hyun said in a forum with international members of the Presidential Committee on Nation Branding.

Kim, 67, reportedly suffered from a stroke last August. In footage of a parliament meeting aired by state media in April, Kim was visibly thinner and limped slightly on his left foot.

"Because of his worsening health condition, Chairman Kim Jong-il may have felt the necessity of accelerating the process of father-to-son succession of power," Hyun said, referring to the North Korean leader by his official title, chairman of the National Defense Commission.

Hyun was speaking publicly for the first time about the North Korean succession issue amid signs of discord within the Seoul government regarding its secretive neighbor's future. The National Intelligence Service, South Korea's spy agency, told lawmakers this week that it appears Jong-un is being groomed as the next leader, citing a recent document it said the North Korean government distributed to diplomats abroad to draw their loyalty vows to the 25-year-old.

The Unification Ministry, in charge of inter-Korean relations, remains cautious, as does Washington. U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood called South Korean reports of Jong-un's designation "speculative."

"Although there are occasional media reports speculating that Chairman Kim has already nominated his third son, Kim Jong-un, nothing has been confirmed on the issue yet," the unification minister said.

Hyun supported the view that the uncertainty of the North Korean regime is behind the North's increasingly coercive behavior toward the outside world. North Korea drew international condemnation by conducting its second nuclear test last week and now appears to be preparing to test-launch an intercontinental ballistic missile.


President Lee Says No Compromise over North's Threats

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said on June 6 his government will not make any compromises in the face of North Korea's heightened threats following its second nuclear test.

"I would like to make it clear that there will be no compromise against things that threaten our people and security," Lee said in a speech marking Memorial Day. "North Korea is threatening the peace and safety of our people as well as the world by conducting a nuclear test and launching missiles."

Lee's stern message comes as the United Nations Security Council as well as South Korea and Japan individually were negotiating possible sanctions on North Korea for conducting the May 25 nuclear test.

Along with the concerted move, the United States is also reportedly preparing to impose its own financial sanctions against North Korea.

"North Korea must keep its promise of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and come back to the six-party and inter-Korean talks," Lee said.

The blast from North Korea's most recent test is believed to have been more powerful than its first test conducted in 2006, prompting the U.N. Security Council to start work on drafting stronger punitive sanctions against the recalcitrant communist regime.

World powers, including North Korea's traditional ally China, unanimously condemned the North's latest nuclear test, declaring that it clearly violated an earlier U.N. resolution adopted in 2006 soon after Pyongyang conducted its first test.

Lee took office in early 2008 and, unlike his two liberal predecessors, adopted a firmer line by linking Seoul's generous aid to the North with progress made in dismantling its nuclear facilities.


U.S. Mulls Relisting N. Korea As State Sponsor of Terrorism

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States is considering relisting North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on June 7, as the international community seeks to sanction Pyongyang for its second nuclear test in nearly three years.

"Well, we're going to look at it. There's a process for it. Obviously we would want to see recent evidence of their support for international terrorism," Clinton said on ABC's This Week program.

Clinton's remarks came in response to a letter she received from several U.S. senators Tuesday asking for the North's relisting.

Pyongyang was put on the list in 1988, soon after North Korean agents blasted a Korean Air plane over Myanmar, killing all 115 passengers aboard.

The Bush administration delisted the North in October to facilitate the North's denuclearization, as Pyongyang agreed verbally to a protocol for verification of its past and current nuclear activity as part of the disabling process of its nuclear facilities under a six-nation deal.

"You know, we take it very seriously," Clinton said. "I mean, obviously they were taken off of the list for a purpose, and that purpose is being thwarted by their actions."

Clinton's remarks run counter to those of Philip Crowley, assistant secretary of state for public affairs.

"As far as I know, firing off missiles and overheated rhetoric is unwise, unhelpful, but does not meet the legal definition of terrorism," Crowley told a daily news briefing Wednesday. "To list a country on the terrorism list, there's a legal requirement there. And what we've seen so far I don't think meets that legal test."

Clinton's tougher position comes as U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg on June 6 concluded a week-long trip to Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo, seeking support for arms and financial embargoes to shut down North Korea's main source of hard currency and access to foreign financial institutions.


N. Korean Leader Doubles Public Appearances This Year

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has nearly doubled his public appearances, including visits to military units and on-site inspections, so far this year compared with a year ago, according to Seoul officials on June 8.

The number of public appearances by the North Korean leader that have been reported outside the country through the North's media so far this year totaled 74, roughly twice the corresponding figure of last year, the Unification Ministry said.

"There aren't any noticeable changes from last year, but Kim seems to have increased his inspections of economic activities in the country," an official at the ministry said.

Meanwhile, North Korea's state broadcaster reported that Kim spent nearly two months between late last year and early this year just traveling on trains to visit people throughout the country, and quoted him as saying in February that he could not sleep well, out of concern at the people's state of well-being.

"I don't think I can sleep with my feet comfortable until the people's problems are resolved," Kim said on Feb. 16, his birthday, according to a radio report from the Korean Central Broadcasting Station monitored in Seoul.


S. Korea Struggling to Confirm N. Korea's Nuclear Detonation

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea is struggling in its weeks-long effort to produce scientific evidence confirming that North Korea detonated a nuclear device on May 25, officials said on June 9.

North Korea, which conducted its first underground atomic test in 2006, said last month it set off another underground nuclear explosion, drawing condemnation from around the world.

The Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety (KINS) has since led the South Korean efforts to detect radioactivity in air particles blowing from the North, but failed to find xenon and krypton, two gases that are generated following nuclear testing or reprocessing.

"Chances of finding them are getting slimmer as time lapses," Kim Si-sun, a government official who oversees the KINS project, said by phone. "We may even have to end our search this week."

Sung Ki-tak, a researcher at the National Fisheries Research and Development Institute (NFRDI), said efforts to find traces of radioactive material in the sea have also produced little in the way of results.

"We have not found a meaningful amount of radioactivity in the East Sea," he said. NFRDI began its second round of maritime searches last Friday, but it is unlikely to be more successful than the first one which took place shortly after the test.

North Korea is believed to have conducted its nuclear test in Punggye-ri, North Hamgyong Province, on the east coast. The blast created a shock that registered 4.52 in magnitude on the Richter scale, according to the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.

The socialist country produced a magnitude 4.1 tremor with its first test, which was apparently conducted at the same site that is more than 300 kilometers away from the border with South Korea.

"A variety of factors may be making it hard for us to detect radioactivity," Kim said, citing the distance, changes in wind direction and an explosion that may have been smaller than North Korean scientists had hoped for.

The United States, which condemned the test but has yet to make a final confirmation, has reportedly flown a WC-135 aircraft over the East Sea in its own effort to detect radioactivity.


China Agrees to Draft Resolution on N. Korea for Nuke Test

NEW YORK (Yonhap) -- China has agreed on a draft resolution on further sanctioning North Korea for its nuclear test last month, the second in nearly three years, removing a major obstacle to a deal, diplomatic sources here said on June 9.

"China has agreed on a compromise draft resolution presented by the U.S. and the Western countries," a diplomat said, asking anonymity. "We expect an announcement on a final agreement will be made soon."

Russia has yet to agree to the draft, citing the need to consult its capital, the diplomat said. "However, we understand negotiations have reached the terminal station."

The five veto-wielding permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus South Korea and Japan, have met several times since the North's May 25 nuclear detonation, but have failed to narrow differences over the level of sanctions, although they have agreed on the need to adopt a legally binding resolution against the North.

Emerging from a meeting of the P-5 plus 2 that also involves the U.S., China, Russia, Britain and France, Susan Rice, U.S. permanent representative to the U.N., said that progress has been made, but added, "We're not done yet.

"We're all working through a large set of very complex difficult issues, and this is a very technical endeavor," she said. "I am hopeful that this will be concluded relatively soon, but I can't give you a more specific prediction than that."

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in Washington that another P-5 plus 2 meeting will be held Wednesday to work out "a number of technical details."

The spokesman urged North Korea to refrain from making further provocations and return to the six-party talks on ending its nuclear weapons programs.

"We need North Korea to take concrete actions, to come off the path that they're on and return to the talks and begin to integrate with the international community," he said.

The 35-point draft resolution bans any further nuclear and ballistic missile tests and calls for overall arms embargoes and financial sanctions on North Korea, other sources said, adding the draft will soon be circulated to the 15-member Security Council for a possible vote in the coming days.

The draft calls for U.N. member states to escort any North Korean vessels deemed to carry parts of weapons of mass destruction to their territorial waters for cargo inspections if the North Korean craft resist interdiction in international waters.

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