Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A sticking point in talks has been how to verify North Korea's disarmament (BBC)

The UN's atomic watchdog says it has removed seals and surveillance cameras from North Korea's main nuclear complex at Pyongyang's request.

Read more from BBC News report North Korea nuclear seals removed Wednesday, 24 September 2008 13:53 UK:
North Korea says the move is part of a plan to reactivate the Yongbyon plant, and that it plans to return nuclear material to the site next week.

The move comes amid a dispute over an international disarmament-for-aid deal.

A similar step in 2002 sparked a crisis which eventually resulted in Pyongyang testing a nuclear weapon in 2006.

The removal of seals and cameras "was completed today" at the site, a spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said.

IAEA inspectors will have no further access to the reprocessing plant, she added.

The US said North Korea's decision to exclude UN monitors was "very disappointing" and urged Pyongyang to reconsider the move or face further isolation.

"We strongly urge the North to reconsider these steps and come back immediately into compliance with its obligations as outlined in the six-party agreements," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

He said that Washington remained "open to further discussions" with the North on their obligations for denuclearisation.
The North has been locked in discussions for years over its nuclear ambitions with five other nations - South Korea, the US, China, Russia and Japan.

Symbolic gesture

Pyongyang began dismantling the reactor, which can be used to make weapons-grade plutonium, last November.

However, on Friday it announced that it was working to reactivate it.

North Korea was expecting to be removed from the US terror list after submitting a long-delayed account of its nuclear facilities to the international talks in June, in accordance with the disarmament deal it signed in 2007.

It also blew up the main cooling tower at Yongbyon in a symbolic gesture of its commitment to the process.

However, the US said it would not remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism until procedures by which the North's disarmament would be verified were established.

North and South Korea have been technically at war since their 1950-53 conflict ended without a peace treaty.

Fuel rods

Experts say the Yongbyon plant could take up to a year to bring back into commission, so there will be no new plutonium production for a while.

However, there is plenty already available in the form of the spent fuel rods, taken from the reactor core, but only removed to a water-cooled tank on the site, says the BBC's John Sudworth in Seoul.

It is this nuclear material that will now be introduced into the separate plutonium reprocessing plant, according to the information given to the IAEA.

Some estimates suggest the fuel rods could yield about 6kg (13lbs) of plutonium within two to three months - enough for one atomic bomb to add to North Korea's existing stockpile.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ban visits Republic of Korea for first time since taking helm at UN

This must be the trip of a lifetime for UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. My heart goes fuzzy warm whenever I see news or photos of him because he seems such a thoroughly decent and kind human being, the sort anyone would love to have as a relative. Even his name, Ban Ki Moon, sounds friendly and cheery.

Ban visits Republic of Korea for first time since taking helm at UN

Visiting his native Republic of Korea for the first time since assuming his post at the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was given a red carpet welcome as he arrived in Seoul, where he and his wife Madam Ban (Yoo) Soon-taek were greeted by Prime Minister Han Seung-Soo (right). The ceremony included a 21-gun salute and a marching band. (3 July 2008)

Ban visits Republic of Korea for first time since taking helm at UN

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Madam Ban (Yoo) Soon-taek take part in a welcoming ceremony at his birthplace, the village of Haengchi in the Republic of Korea. “This is the trip for which both my wife and I have been counting the days -- the trip back home,” Mr. Ban said. (5 July 2008).

Ban visits Republic of Korea for first time since taking helm at UN

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pays respect to his ancestors at the village temple in his birthplace, Haengchi village, in the Republic of Korea. (5 July 2008)

Ban visits Republic of Korea for first time since taking helm at UN

Secretary-General Ban-Ki-moon meets with Prime Minister Han Seung-soo of the Republic of Korea, who previously served as President of the United Nations General Assembly. (5 July 2008)

Ban visits Republic of Korea for first time since taking helm at UN

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon receives a United Nations flag from Yi So-yeon, the Korean astronaut who recently carried the banner into outer space. The Secretary-General took the opportunity to praise the role of women in all fields of work, in the Republic of Korea and throughout the world. (3 July 2008)

Ban visits Republic of Korea for first time since taking helm at UN

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon receives an honorary doctorate degree from his alma mater, Seoul National University. “As leaders of tomorrow, you should embrace change, not fear it. By changing ourselves, we change the world. By changing the world, we change our destiny,” he told students. (3 July 2008)

Source: photo stories Homecoming for UN leader


Sunday, September 14, 2008

North Korea builds secret launch site for ballistic missiles

North Korea has secretly built a launch site for ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads according to new satellite imagery.

Source: Telegraph September 11, 2008

US and China in secret talks on N Korea chaos fears after Kim Jong-il 'stroke'

September 13, 2008 (UK) Telegraph report by Philip Sherwell in New York and Stanlislav Varivoda in Kuala Lumpur:
America and China are holding secret talks about their shared fear of instability in nuclear-armed North Korea amid reports that the country's diminutive bouffant-haired dictator Kim Jong-il suffered a serious stroke last month.

The world's most unpredictable nation is thought to be heading for a succession crisis involving the three pillars of state - the Kim dynasty, the military and the Workers' Party.

Veteran generals and party technocrats are expected to install one of Kim's sons or his brother-in-law as a figurehead for a collective leadership if the ailing 66-year-old "Dear Leader" is incapacitated or dies, US and South Korean intelligence believe.

But Kim's protracted recovery and his failure to groom an obvious successor - in contrast to the way he was prepared for power by his father Kim il-Sung, the nation's founder - have heightened fears of a political vacuum and in-fighting.

His absence from Tuesday's military parade marking the country's 60th anniversary - an annual celebration that he has never previously missed - is seen as in indication that he is seriously ill.

And North Korea's recent failure to complete two accords that would require Kim's approval - verification of nuclear disarmament and an agreement with Japan on abductions of citizens - is a sign that decision-making may already be crippled.

Pyongyang's backtracking on its pledge to abandon its nuclear programme in return for desperately-needed economic aid coincides with reports that it has almost completed a missile base that could put US territory within range.

This has set alarm bells ringing in the White House after President George W Bush recently signed off the controversial nuclear deal with the Stalinist regime. He did so on the advice of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice but to the dismay of neoconservative hawks like Vice President Dick Cheney.

A senior administration official told Fox News that the US and China, which have often been rivals over regional politics, were holding highly-sensitive talks about what to do if there is ensuing instability in North Korea.

Although Beijing is regarded as an ally of Pyongyang, it does not want its impoverished neighbour to implode, potentially creating a wave of refugees trying to reach China.

US intelligence believes that Kim suffered a major stroke and that, with a family history of diabetes and heart disease, he is a prime candidate for another attack that could kill him. It believes he is able to talk and walk, but is very weak and his recovery could at best be slow.

Although Kim has not apparently chosen a successor, he and his father have both been revered under the state ideology of Juche as near god-like figures. So the country's military and party leaders are expected to choose a close relative for a symbolic role in the succession for the sake of continuity.

His eldest son Kim Jong-nam, 37, would usually have been regarded as the natural successor under Confucian tradition. But the playboy with a penchant for discos, casinos and brothels caused an embarrassing scandal for Pyongyang when he was caught trying to sneak into Japan on a fake Dominican passport in 2001.

He then spent time partying and gambling in the former Portuguese Chinese enclave of Macau. Nonetheless, if he is seen subsequently to have atoned and repented, he could still be rehabilitated.

In his 20s, he seemed to be on the fast-track to succeed his father after he was appointed to a senior post in the domestic intelligence agency where, according to defectors, he oversaw a major purge that ended in dozens of executions.

He also held positions in the secret police, army and Workers' Party.

Known as "Comrade General" after his father promoted him to that rank at 24, his army unit was once hailed on state television for assisting peasant farmers by preparing "good-quality manure" - high praise in North Korea.

And in Jan 2001, a state policy of "New Thinking" was unveiled, putting a priority on the technological reconstruction of North Korea, with a special emphasis on information technology - an area of expertise of Jong-nam.

Travel restrictions did not apply to him and he was believed to be regular visitor to Japan, where he developed his interest in information technology. But later in 2001 came the incident at Narita airport that began his fall from grace.

The death of his mother, an actress who reportedly never married his father, further weakened his status. His wayward reputation was sealed when Japanese media published an interview with a prostitute who said he visited her brothel and had a huge tattoo of a bear on his back.

But Kim himself has often also been described as a communist playboy with a taste for expensive cognac and Western movies, so his oldest offspring's behaviour may not count against him in perpetuity.

His other two known sons are Kim Jong-chol, 27, and Kim Jong-Un, 25, the children of the Japanese-born star of Pyongyang's most famous song-and-dance troupe. Kim Jong-il's former sushi chef Kenji Fujimoto, who defected to Japan, has said that Jong-un is the most favoured of the three sons because of his striking resemblance to his father - a serious advantage in the eyes of a famously vain figure.

But neither has any public profile or is known to have held any significant positions in the military or party. And in a society that places high importance on age and wisdom, it is unlikely that such young men could fulfil even a symbolic leadership role.

The dark horse in the family succession stakes is Kim's brother-in-law Chang Sung-taek. He has two major factors in his favour - he is more mature in years than his nephews and he runs the country's internal security system.

In a worst-case scenario, different Kim relatives could be backed by rival factions. In 2006, South Korea's intelligence service, which has a network of well-placed informants in Pyongyang, predicted that when the dictator died, a power battle would break out between top military officials - in partnership with the dictator's sons.

The current uncertainty coincides with reports that North Korea is completing a long-range missile base larger and more capable than an older and well-known launch pad for intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to the AP news agency.

Jane's Defence Weekly said that the system is about one or two years from first-stage completion, but the launch pad likely has had "emergency launch capability" since 2006.

The base is a major step forward for North Korea's long-range missile programme, said John Pike, an imagery expert with who was among analysts who first reviewed the information.

"It would suggest they have the intention to develop the capability to perfect a missile to deliver atomic bombs to the United States," he told AP.