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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 76 (October 15, 2009)

All Headlines 11:00 October 15, 2009


N. Korea Halts Media Propaganda for Heir Apparent: Seoul Official

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea recently halted media publicity over a future father-to-son power transfer in the country while increasing reports on current leader Kim Jong-il, a senior Seoul official said on Oct. 8.

Beginning late last year, state media stepped up propaganda efforts to justify the expected transfer of power from Kim to one of his sons, but such publicity came to a halt in mid-July this year, Vice Unification Minister Hong Yang-ho said at a forum.

Kim, 67, who reportedly suffered a stroke in August last year, is believed to have named his third and youngest son, Kim Jong-un, as his successor and to be grooming him for an official debut as the next leader.

"North Korean media continued to broadcast reports that appeared to indicate the legitimacy of a hereditary succession since the end of 2008, but such reports were put on hold after July 15, 2009," Hong said at a closed-door civic forum on North Korea policy. A transcript of his remarks was released by the ministry.

North Korean media often employed phrases like "bloodline of Mt. Paektu," Kim Jong-il's supposed birthplace, or "inheritance" when lauding the country's leadership, something analysts here saw as a reference to the planned succession. The use of such terms also peaked around the time the senior Kim was being trained as heir, they say.

Kim Jong-un, believed to be born in 1984 to the leader's third wife Ko Yong-hui, is said to most resemble his father in appearance and temperament among the three sons. His older brother, Jong-chol, is 28, and half-brother, Jong-nam, is 38.

While references to the succession have subsided, the vice minister said, North Korea appeared to be intensifying social control to maintain national unity around the senior Kim. Media reports of Kim's public activities totaled 110 as of Oct. 1, compared to 74 reported during the same period last year, the vice minister noted.

Also, a statement by Kim regarding the building of a "prosperous" nation by 2012 was reported five times over the span of five days from Aug. 24 to 28, he noted.

Such intense publicity on Kim "shows he is in firm control" and "puts emphasis on traditional ideology to protect the regime," he said.

The current leader was internally designated as successor at age 32 in 1974 during a Workers' Party meeting and publicly declared as the heir to his father during a party convention in 1980. His father and the country's founder, Kim Il-sung, died of a heart attack in 1994.

Despite the drop in media references, watchers say the succession process is picking up pace internally. A Taiwanese photographer recently posted a photo on the Internet taken in the northern North Korean town of Wonsan last month, showing a poster that carried the heir's name in red alongside his father's name.

Cheong Seong-chang, an expert with the non-governmental Sejong Institute south of Seoul, said the North is now directing the succession process in a more subtle way, in contrast to its earlier nuclear and missile tests that were believed to have been aimed at supporting the power transition.

"In the early process of building the succession system, North Korea needed tension with the outside world to tighten internal unity and pursued a military-oriented ultra-hardline foreign policy that completely ignored the positions of other countries," Cheong said. "The Kim Jong-un succession system has now entered a stable orbit."


N.K.'s Return to Nuke Talks Won't Automatically Ease U.N. Sanctions

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea and other regional powers will maintain the "two-track approach" of engaging North Korea and also enforcing punitive sanctions on it under a U.N. resolution even if Pyongyang resumes its bilateral and multilateral nuclear talks, Seoul's top diplomat said on Oct. 8.

Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said Seoul does not want a repeat of 2006, when the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution to punish the North for its first nuclear test but did not fully implement it once the communist regime rejoined the six-nation disarmament talks with South Korea, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan. Other involved countries share Seoul's view, he said.

South Korea's position is to continue the two-track approach "until North Korea takes irreversible steps towards denuclearization. Other nations have also reached a consensus on it," the minister said at a press briefing.

Yu said China has reaffirmed its will to fully implement the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874, the latest punitive action against the North adopted after its missile and second nuclear test.

China's intent was questioned when its Premier Wen Jiabao signed several cooperation pacts with North Korea during his visit to Pyongyang earlier this week. The agreements reportedly entail massive aid worth about US$20 million, including the construction of a bridge over the Yalu River along their border.

South Korean officials and analysts raised concerns that China's move may weaken international efforts to enforce the U.N. resolution.

"I understand that China has an unchanged stance to fully implement the resolution," Yu said. "And the U.N. Security Council 1874 excludes humanitarian aid and development cooperation (from activities subject to sanctions)."

Yu said the U.S. is very cautious not to give a wrong signal to North Korea and other countries in pushing for bilateral contact with Pyongyang. He confirmed media reports that North Korea has invited Stephen Bosworth, special representative for North Korea policy, and Sung Kim, special envoy on the six-party talks, to visit Pyongyang for bilateral talks.

"The U.S. is making delicate efforts not to give an impression that such a bilateral meeting will replace the six-way talks," Yu said. "U.S.-North Korea bilateral contact is what North Korea wants, and the U.S. has confined the purpose of the bilateral talks to urging North Korea to come back to the six-way talks."

The minister said North Korea was "playing double" by expressing its intent for dialogue while continuing nuclear activities.


Uncertainties Surrounding N. Korean Regime Deepening: S. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Uncertainties in North Korea continue to grow, South Korea's defense minister said on Oct. 12, citing the socialist rival's ongoing nuclear and missile programs and persisting rumors over the health of its leader Kim Jong-il.

"The uncertain nature of the North Korean regime is deepening," Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said in a speech, a day after the North test-fired a fresh barrage of its most advanced short-range missiles off the east coast.

Speaking at an academic forum in Seoul, Kim said North Korea is "intensifying its threats based on its nuclear, missile and special force capabilities" on top of its 1.2-million troops. He did not elaborate.

North Korea, which has conducted two known nuclear tests and continues to test-launch missiles, is believed to operate 180,000 special forces designed to hit rear defenses in the event of war.

Kim said the uncertainties are compounded by rumors that the all-powerful North Korean leader has yet to completely recover from a stroke he reportedly suffered in summer last year.

In recent photos released by the North, Kim Jong-il is seen walking and talking to visiting envoys without great difficulty, even though some say his movement appears slightly compromised.

South Korean and U.S. officials say Kim has recovered enough to assume his power over the regime, which is seeking bilateral dialogue with the United States after months of bellicose behavior.

Speculation runs rampant over who will succeed the 67-year-old North Korean, with his third son, Jong-eun, considered most likely to have been tapped.

Kim Tae-young, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, rose to the post of defense minister last month as part of a government reshuffle by President Lee Myung-bak.

The relations between the two countries froze rapidly after Lee took office early last year with a pledge to press harder for the North to denuclearize under a multilateral agreement.

Faced with tougher sanctions for its May 25 nuclear test, North Korea has recently opened the door for dialogue with the outside world, agreeing Tuesday to fresh cross-border talks with the South.


Missile Launch Will Not Affect U.S. Goal of N. Korean Denuclearization

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States on Oct. 13 reacted calmly to North Korea's launch of five short-range missiles the previous day, saying such provocation does not change the U.S. goal of denuclearizing North Korea through the six-party talks.

"It doesn't change our goal," Philip Crowley, assistant secretary of state for public affairs, said in a daily news briefing. "We are interested in seeing a resumption of the six-party process. We're interested in seeing North Korea recommit to its obligations that it's made in the past few years."

Crowley was referring to the six-party deals agreed upon by the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia to call for North Korea's nuclear dismantlement in return for massive economic aid, diplomatic recognition by Washington and Tokyo and establishment of a permanent peace regime to replace the current armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

North Korea has boycotted the six-party negotiations, citing U.N. sanctions for its nuclear and missile tests earlier this year, although its leader, Kim Jong-il, recently expressed his willingness to return to the multilateral talks on the condition that bilateral talks with the U.S. produce results.

North Korea extended an invitation to Stephen Bosworth, special representative for North Korea policy, when former U.S. President Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang in August to win the release of two American journalists and discuss North Korean nuclear and other issues.

Crowley said the Barack Obama administration has not yet made a decision whether to send Bosworth, saying, "We continue to evaluate that probability."

In Moscow, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed a possible bilateral dialogue with North Korea to woo the North back to the six-party talks.

"We're looking to restart the six-party process," Clinton said in a joint press availability with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. "Sergey and I talked about that. We continue to believe it is the best way forward. We may use some bilateral discussions to help get that process going, but that is not in any way linked to relaxing any sanctions whatsoever."

She said that the U.S. has "absolutely no intention of relaxing or offering to relax North Korean sanctions at this point whatsoever."

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