*** NEWS IN BRIEF
N. Korea Pledges Not to Abandon Nukes for 'Petty' Economic Aid
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea vowed on Feb. 19 not to give up nuclear arms for "petty economic aid," claiming it has only developed them to counter what it called U.S. nuclear threats.
The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the reason the socialist country pursued nuclear arms is not to bargain them for economic benefits but to counter "the deepening U.S. nuclear threats."
"We have tightened our belts, braved various difficulties and spent countless (amounts of) money to obtain a nuclear deterrent as a self-defense measure against U.S. nuclear threats," the KCNA said in an editorial monitored in Seoul.
"We never meant to seek 'economic benefits' from someone or threaten others."
The U.S. and South Korea believe North Korea has produced enough plutonium to build at least six nuclear bombs.
"Only fools will entertain the delusion that we will trade our nuclear deterrent for petty economic aid," the KCNA said.
North Korea launched a diplomatic campaign this year to create consensus for a forum that could lead to a peace treaty with the U.S. and formally close the 1950-53 Korean War.
North Korea says such a treaty would improve the odds of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, arguing the existing truce feeds U.S. aggression toward it and blocks progress in six-party talks on ending its nuclear arms programs.
The talks, which involve the two Koreas, the U.S., Russia, Japan and China, have not been held since late 2008. North Korea says it will not return to the talks unless negotiations on ending the Korean War are launched and U.N. sanctions against the North are lifted.
Despite the hardline stance, observers believe the North will soon return to the aid-for-denuclearization talks as it grapples with its economic plight, which has deepened since it conducted its second nuclear test last year.
Kim Kye-gwan, the top North Korean envoy to the six-party dialogue, recently visited Beijing to discuss the resumption of the talks, and South Korea's foreign minister said this week he expects the North to reverse its stance "in the near future."
North Korea Names Kim Pyong-ho as KCNA Chief
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Kim Pyong-ho, vice head of North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), has been appointed as the agency's new chief, a KCNA report confirmed on on Feb. 22.
The KCNA, monitored in Seoul, called him "general director of the KCNA" in a report on a national meeting of North Korean journalists in Pyongyang earlier in the day.
Kim's promotion seems to be a follow-up to his predecessor Kim Ki-ryong's recent departure to become the new president of Rodong Sinmun, a newspaper published by the ruling Workers' Party.
Kim Pyong-ho started his career as a reporter with the news agency, and was promoted to its second-highest post in August 2002.
It is of interest whether he will visit Seoul to attend the OANA Summit Congress, a meeting of news agency chiefs in the Asia-Pacific region set for April 21-24.
Host Yonhap New Agency plans to invite heads of 40 OANA members from 32 nations, including the KCNA, to the meeting. OANA stands for the Organization of Asia-Pacific News Agencies.
N. Korean Leader Kim Jong-il Sees Series of Art Performances
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has watched a series of art performances since the Lunar New Year's Day, according to North Korean media, a move that draws much attention from outside watchers.
The (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on Feb. 23 that Kim appreciated a performance given by the student art groups of Kimilsung University, Kimchaek University of Technology and other universities based in the North Korean capital Pyongyang.
That raised the number of art performances watched by Kim to six since the Lunar New Year's Day, which fell on Feb. 14. Kim was accompanied by Choe Thae-bok, a secretary of the powerful Workers' Party of (North) Korea (WPK), and other leading party officials.
"It is a fundamental issue to fully prepare the rising generation as able talents and pillars of the country equipped with knowledge, good moral character and good health," Kim was quoted as saying after the performance.
The appreciation of the student performance is the latest in a string of presentations the North Korean leader saw. The KCNA reported Kim also watched performances on Feb. 15, 17, 18 and 21.
Most noteworthy was his watching of an art performance by the country's security ministry on Feb. 21. Kim "appreciated a premiere given by the newly-organized Song and Dance Ensemble of the Ministry of People's Security," the KCNA said, without elaborating when and where the event was held.
The North's media usually release reports on Kim's outdoor activity belatedly apparently due to security concerns.
The performance was given after the security ministry on Feb. 8 issued a joint statement with the Ministry of State Security warning of a military attack against the South.
North Korea Holds National Meeting of Journalists
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea held a national meeting of journalists and other media people in Pyongyang on Feb. 22, calling on them to actively publicize the regime's goal of building a strong and powerful nation, the North 's official media said.
It is the first time for Pyongyang to organize an event of journalists with the title of a national meeting. The socialist country is committed to building "a Kangsong Taeguk (great, prosperous and powerful nation)" in 2012, the birth centennial of its late founder Kim Il-sung.
The (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Kim Yong-nam, the North's titular head of state, conveyed leader Kim Jong-il's message to the gathering, titled "Journalists and Other Media Persons Are Buglers Sounding Advance in Dynamic Drive for Building a Great Prosperous and Powerful Nation."
"The journalists and other media persons are faced with a duty to give fullest play to the mental power of the service personnel and people in order to bring earlier the emergence of a thriving nation," the North Korean leader was quoted as saying.
The participating journalists vowed to bring about great innovations and big leap forward with the might of pens, the KCNA said, adding they declared that all the journalists would perform their honorable missions and tasks as vanguard on the ideological front.
Present at the meeting were Choe Thae-Bok and Kim Ki-nam, secretaries of the North's ruling Workers' Party of (North) Korea (WPK), officials in the field of the WPK's ideological work and journalists and other media persons under the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, the KCNA said.
Chinese Leader Hu Jintao Shows Commitment to Sino-N. Korean Ties
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Chinese President Hu Jintao has expressed Beijing's firm commitment to further development of friendly relations with Pyongyang, a North Korean state radio channel reported on Feb. 24.
"Last year, the two countries marked the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations," the (North) Korean Central Broadcasting Station (KCBS) quoted Hu as saying. "The Chinese side will make efforts to push forward friendly relations to a new stage."
Hu made the remarks during talks with Kim Yong-Il, director of the International Department of North Korea's Workers' Party of Korea, who arrived in Beijing a day earlier. China is the staunchest ally of the isolated North Korean regime and its largest benefactor.
Earlier on Feb. 23. Kim met his Chinese counterpart Wang Jiarui and agreed to boost inter-party contacts ''so as to contribute to the common development of the two countries, the KCBS said.
North Korea watchers speculate that during his stay in Beijing, Kim may discuss North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's visit to China with Chinese officials.
Hu extended an invitation for the North Korean leader to visit China in a verbal message conveyed when Wang, head of the Chinese Communist Party's International Department, met with Kim in Pyongyang on Feb. 8.
Kim Jong-il, chairman of the National Defense Commission, the North's top political body, has visited China four times since 2000.
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