*** FOREIGN TIPS
North Korea Ranked Lowest in Asia in Political Freedom: Report
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea was ranked the lowest in political freedom, along with Myanmar, among Asian nations, a report by a U.S.-based think tank said.
North Korea was the lowest on the list of 39 Asian nations surveyed by Freedom House, the Heritage Foundation said in a report titled "Key Asian Indicators: A 2009 Book of Charts" that was issued Nov. 24.
Among the world's nations, North Korea and Myanmar were ranked 186th in political freedom.
"The two countries in the region that pose the greatest challenge to U.S. foreign policy are controlled by the most oppressive governments," the report said.
North Korea was fourth in Asia in terms of political instability, with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Myanmar leading the list, the report said, citing the Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy magazine.
Lee Willing to Meet N. Korean Leader 'Anywhere' to Resolve Nuclear Issue
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said on Nov. 28 that he is ready to hold a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il "anytime and anywhere" to help resolve such problems as the North's nuclear ambitions and the issue of South Korean citizens abducted by the communist nation.
"I have no political reason to hold a summit (with Kim), but I can meet him at any time if it will help convince North Korea to give up its nuclear programs and resolve humanitarian issues, such as South Korean prisoners of war and those who were abducted," the president said in a live television program that began late Friday.
Lee's remarks followed recent media reports that ranking officials from South and North Korea secretly met in Singapore to discuss a possible summit between their leaders, though government officials in Seoul denied any such meeting was held.
Lee said a summit, along with any dialogue between the two Koreas, will be arranged and held transparently.
"It is difficult to publicly talk about a summit, but the government plans to take a very normal course of steps," he said.
The president noted his country is entitled to demand a visit by the North Korean leader for a summit here because the first two rounds of inter-Korean summits in 2000 and 2007 were both held in Pyongyang, but said he is willing to relent on such a stance at least for the next round.
"I think it does not have to be held within the territory of South Korea if such a summit will help resolve such issues. Because the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is such an important issue, I plan to meet (Kim) at any time and anywhere, as long as our objective for such a summit can be achieved," Lee said.
Russian Lawmaker Unsure of North Korea's Return to Nuclear Talks
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A Russian lawmaker said he was not sure whether North Korea has decided to return to six-nation nuclear talks, commenting on his recent trip to Pyongyang where he met with the North's titular head of state, a U.S. broadcaster reported on Nov. 28.
Sergei Mikhailovich Mironov, chairman of the Federation Council of Russia, was quoted as telling a Russian news outlet that it was difficult to say whether the North was ready to resume the negotiations on ending its atomic weapons program. He said he could not get any definite answers from North Korean officials on the issue during his visit, Voice of America reported.
Mironov made a two-day trip to Pyongyang from Nov. 24, during which he met with the North's No. 2 leader Kim Yong-nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly.
Pyongyang has boycotted the nuclear talks since late last year and declared in April that it had quit the negotiations, which also involve South Korea, the U.S., Japan, China and Russia.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, however, told Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao during his Pyongyang visit last month that the North may return to the negotiating table depending on the outcome of its anticipated dialogue with the United States.
Stephen Bosworth, special U.S. representative for North Korea policy, is set to travel to the communist North Dec. 8-10 for talks on resuming the nuclear negotiations.
South Korea Sees Dim Prospects for North Korea-U.S. Talks
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The outlook for a rare direct dialogue between North Korea and the United States scheduled for next week is "dark," with the socialist country showing no clear signs that it will rejoin the long-stalled disarmament talks on its nuclear program, a Seoul official said on Nov. 29.
U.S. special envoy on North Korea Stephen Bosworth is scheduled to fly to Pyongyang on Dec. 8 on a mission to persuade Pyongyang to return to the six-party nuclear disarmament forum that it quit earlier this year. It will be the North's first one-on-one dialogue with the Barack Obama administration which took office in January.
"We are seeing no signals from North Korea yet that it will return to the six-party talks," a South Korean foreign ministry official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity. "As for now, we see that the prospects are dark."
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il told visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in October that his country would decided whether to rejoin the multilateral nuclear forum based on the outcome of bilateral talks with the U.S. His remarks were widely seen as a hint that the North may opt to rejoin the stalled six-party forum. The other parties involved are South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.
"Whether North Korea hinted at its return to the six-party talks has not been verified," the official said.
As a precondition of its return to the nuclear negotiations, North Korea still insists on the establishment of a peace regime with the U.S., the official said. Pyongyang's media routinely calls for the U.S. to replace the Korean War armistice agreement with a peace treaty to be signed between it and the U.S.
The foreign ministry official said that Bosworth will fly to North Korea by way of Seoul, where he will stop over on his way to Washington after the planned trip to the North.
South Korean government sources said Bosworth will come to Seoul via a commercial flight but will use a military plane when he visits the North. About 28,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.
The official said chances are "not high" that Bosworth would carry a letter from Obama or that he would meet with the North Korean leader during his Pyongyang visit.
N. Korea Yet to Indicate Return to Six-party Talks: U.S. State Dept.
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea has given no indication that it will return to the six-party talks, the U.S. State Department said on Nov. 30, even as the U.S. point man on North Korea is set to visit Pyongyang to attempt to revive the nuclear negotiations.
Ambassador Stephen Bosworth will visit North Korea Dec. 8.
"I'm not aware of any kind of diplomatic exchange like that per se, but that is the main goal of Ambassador Bosworth's trip, to get them to return to the six-party talks," spokesman Ian Kelly said when asked if Pyongyang has indicated that it will come back to the multilateral forum. "I am not aware that they have indicated that."
Kelly's remarks come amid conflicting reports on North Korea's intentions, with some saying Pyongyang will come back after at least a couple of rounds of bilateral talks with the U.S.
Others say North Korea is interested more in establishing a peace regime to replace the fragile armistice signed at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War and in resolving its nuclear issue through bilateral discussion with the U.S.
U.S. President Barack Obama announced the trip to Pyongyang by Bosworth, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, in Seoul only weeks ago to attempt to lure the reluctant North back to the table. North Korea has boycotted the talks in response to international sanctions for its nuclear and missile tests.
State Department officials have said Bosworth will stay in Pyongyang for two days, leading a delegation of four or five inter-agency officials, including Sung Kim, U.S. special envoy for the six-party talks.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week offered North Korea "significant benefits" in return for "the verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
Clinton said the U.S. "would explore some of the issues which they have raised continually with us over the years; namely, normalization of relations, a peace treaty instead of an armistice, economic development assistance."
She added, "All of that would be open for discussion. But the North Koreans have to commit to denuclearization. And we also think it's important to do so within the context of the six-party talks."
South Korea Questions North Korean Demand for Peace Treaty
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said on Dec. 2 that North Korea's repeated calls for a peace treaty on the peninsula seem aimed at buying time for nuclear weapons development.
Yu's comments at an academic forum in Seoul were leveled at Pyongyang, which has increasingly demanded talks for a peace regime ahead of its long-awaited bilateral dialogue with the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama.
Stephen Bosworth, Obama's senior envoy on North Korea, is scheduled to fly into Pyongyang on Dec. 8 for a meeting with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok-ju, who is known to oversee the socialist nation's diplomatic policies.
In recent weeks, the North's official media have carried a series of reports declaring that the current armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War should be replaced with a peace treaty.
"North Korea's talk of a peace pact is viewed as being intended to buy time, distract attention, and continue nuclear weapons development in order to be recognized as a nuclear state like Pakistan and India," the minister said.
South Korea and the U.S. alike admit to the need for establishing a peace mechanism on the tension-ridden peninsula, though the allies have urged the North to first eliminate its nuclear program in a "complete and verifiable way."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reaffirmed in a recent media interview that if the North does so, the U.S. "would explore some of the issues which they have raised continually with us over the years; namely, normalization of relations, a peace treaty instead of an armistice, economic development assistance."
South Korea's top diplomat made clear that Seoul is opposed to any discussion on a peace treaty that involves only North Korea and the U.S., saying it requires four-way consultations that include South Korea and China, which also took part in the Korean War.
"North Korea's position is that it has already resolved the issue with South Korea through the 1992 Basic Agreement and that a peace treaty should be signed with the U.S.," Yu said. "But a peace treaty should be discussed between South and North Korea as well as the U.S. and China."
The four nations and the other two participants in the Beijing-based nuclear talks --Japan and Russia -- created a working group forum to discuss the peace regime issue within the context of the six-party talks, though it has remained dormant amid Pyongyang's refusal to return to the multilateral negotiations, apparently in favor of bilateral dialogue with Washington.
Yu said that security guarantees for North Korea are included in a joint communique signed between the U.S. and North Korea in 2000, the fruit of efforts by the Clinton administration to reach out to the North in its final months in office.
The two countries agreed in the communique to take measures to fundamentally improve their relations based on the "changed environment on the peninsula" following the landmark first summit between leaders of the two Koreas earlier in the year.
Then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and North Korean Marshal Jo Myong-rok exchanged visits to each other's capitals to produce the document, which later lost all significance during the Bush administration.
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