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Posts Tagged ‘Pyongyang’

North Korea threatens nuclear ‘holy war’ with the South

Posted by Admin on December 31, 2010

http://www.headlinenewsbureau.com/siterun_data/news/world/doc210846daf07da4d680356a2bc5db1771.html

North says live-fire exercises are raising tensions • Seoul promises ‘merciless counterattack’ if provoked

Tensions on the Korean pensinsula were at their most dangerous level since the 1950-53 war today when North Korea threatened to use nuclear weapons in a “holy war” against its neighbour after South Korean tanks, jets and artillery carried out one of the largest live-fire drills in history close to the border.

The military exercise at Pocheon, just south of the demilitarized zone, was the third such show of force this week by South Korea. Multiple rocket-launchers, dozens of tanks and hundreds of troops joined the drills, which the South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, insisted was necessary for self-defence, following two deadly attacks this year. Last month, two civilians and two marines were killed by a North Korean barrage on Yeonpyeong island following a live-fire drill in disputed territory. In March, 46 sailors died when the South Korean naval ship, Cheonan, was sunk, apparently by an enemy torpedo.

“We had believed patience would ensure peace on this land, but that was not the case,” Lee told troops today. He earlier warned that he was ready to order a “merciless counterattack” if further provoked.

North Korea’s armed forces minister, Kim Yong-chun, also lifted the pitch of the sabre-rattling. “To counter the enemy’s intentional drive to push the situation to the brink of war, our revolutionary forces are making preparations to begin a holy war at any moment necessary based on nuclear deterrent,” North Korea’s KCNA news agency quoted him telling a rally in Pyongyang.

Bellicosity and brinkmanship are nothing new on the divided peninsula and there are doubts that North Korea is capable of an accurate nuclear strike, though it has conducted two bomb tests and is believed to have enough high-grade plutonium for at least six warheads.

But even with conventional artillery, the two neighbours are capable of inflicting horrendous casualties among their densely packed populations.

The political situation is less predictable than usual due to the ongoing transition of power in Pyongyang from Kim Jong-il to his son Kim Jong-un. There has also been a hardening of positions in Seoul, where president Lee is belatedly trying to demonstrate his toughness. After being criticised for his restrained response to the two earlier incidents, Lee has fired his top military advisers and replaced them with hardliners, who favour an escalated display of self-defence.

Efforts to defuse the crisis have not been helped by divisions among the other major players in the region.

Russia has proposed sending a special United Nations envoy to the region and China has called for restraint and expressed support for a fresh round of six-party denuclearisation talks. But Japan and the United States have backed the robust stance taken by Seoul, saying North Korea has not yet done enough to deserve new negotiations. Last weekend, the American ambassador to the United Nations proposed a security council statement condemning Pyongyang, but it was blocked by China.

The topic looks certain to be high on the agenda at a summit between US president Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao in Washington on 19 January. According to Japan’s Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, Obama called Hu earlier this month to say that if the government in Beijing did not restrain its old ally then the US would take action. Many analysts believe this is why North Korea has since refrained from further military steps.

China is the main supplier of food and fuel to its isolated and impoverished neighbour, but the extent of its influence over Pyongyang remains unclear. Policymakers in Beijing are divided. US diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks show that senior Chinese foreign ministry officials have privately expressed considerable frustration with Pyongyang’s behaviour . But the Chinese Communist party‘s nationalist newspaper, Global Times, has accused South Korea of provocation.

“Many believe that if they try to be nice, Pyongyang will never stop; and if they play tough, the other side will back off. But the two Koreas are not street hoodlums, nor bullies in the schoolyard,” it noted in a recent editorial. The priority, it added, was to avoid regional instability and economic development. “It is unacceptable for regional interests that any side threatens the other with war, whatever the purpose may be.”

Hopes for an easing of tensions rose briefly earlier this week, when an unofficial US envoy returned from Pyongyang, where he said he noted a change of attitude. New Mexico governor Bill Richardson – a veteran intermediary – praised North Korea for stepping back from the brink and for promising to readmit international nuclear inspectors as well as sell Seoul thousands of used-nuclear fuel rods that could otherwise be used to make weapons.

However, he warned today that if military exercises continue near the border, the restraint may not last.

“The situation is still a tinderbox. There’s still enormous tension, enormous mistrust and I believe diplomacy is what is needed to get us out of this tinderbox,” Richardson said in an interview with the Associated Press. He described the tensions as “the worst I have ever seen on the peninsula”.

Korea’s year of living dangerously 27 March Forty-six sailors die in sinking of the Chenoan, a South Korean warship . North denies responsibility.

20 May South-led investigation concludes the Cheonan was sunk by North’s torpedo.

27 May North scraps pact aimed at preventing border skirmishes.

16 June Barack Obama renews sanctions against North over its nuclear programme.

29 October North’s troops open fire on South’s border post.

22 November US scientists are shocked to be shown uranium enrichment facility in the North.

23 November Two civilians and two marines are killed during the North’s artillery barrage, prompted by the South’s live-fire exercise in disputed waters.

20 December South’s troops conduct 45th live-fire exercise of the year. Pyongyang backs down from threat of “catastrophic” consequences.

21 December Washington and Seoul are dismissive about the North’s promise to readmit international nuclear inspectors.

23 December The South stages largest winter drill . Its president, Lee Myung-bak, says he is ready to order a “merciless counterattack”. North Korea warns it is prepared to go nuclear in “holy war”.

South Korea North Korea Nuclear weapons Jonathan Watts

 

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China knows less about NKorea than thought

Posted by Admin on November 30, 2010

Logo used by Wikileaks

BEIJINGChina knows less about and has less influence over its close ally North Korea than is usually presumed and is likely to eventually accept a reunified peninsula under South Korean rule, according to U.S. diplomatic files leaked to the WikiLeaks website.

The memos — called cables, though they were mostly encrypted e-mails — paint a picture of three countries struggling to understand an isolated, hard-line regime in the face of a dearth of information and indicate American and South Korean diplomats’ reliance on China’s analysis and interpretation.

The release of the documents, which included discussions of contingency plans for the regime’s collapse and speculation about when that might come, follows new tensions in the region. North Korea unleashed a fiery artillery barrage on a South Korean island that killed four people a week ago and has since warned that joint U.S.-South Korean naval drills this week are pushing the peninsula to the “brink of war.”

The shelling comes on the heels of a slew of other provocative acts: An illegal nuclear test and several missile tests, the torpedoing of a SouthKorean warship and, most recently, an announcement that in addition to its plutonium program, it may also be pursuing the uranium path to a nuclear bomb.

The memos give a window into a period prior to the latest tensions, but they paint a picture of three countries struggling to understand isolated and unpredictable North Korea.

In the cables, China sometimes seems unaware of or uncertain about issues ranging from who will succeed North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to the regime’s uranium enrichment plans and its nuclear test, suggesting that the North plays its cards close to its chest even with its most important ally.

Questioned about the enriched uranium program in June last year, Chinese officials said they believed that was program was “only in an initial phase” — a characterization that now appears to have been a gross underestimate.

China is Pyongyang’s closest ally — Beijing fought on the northern side of the Korean War and its aid props up the current regime — and its actions have often served to insulate North Korea from foreign pressure. It has repeatedly opposed harsh economic sanctions and responded to the latest crises by repeating calls for a return to long-stalled, six-nation denuclearization talks that the North has rejected.

But China would appear to have little ability to stop a collapse and less influence over the authorities in Pyongyang than is widely believed, South Korea’s then-vice foreign minister, Chun Yung-woo, is quoted telling American Ambassador Kathleen Stephens in February.

China lacks the will to push Pyongyang to change its behavior, according to Chun, but Beijing will not necessarily oppose the U.S. and South Korea in the case of a North Korean collapse.

China “would be comfortable with a reunified Korea controlled by Seoul and anchored to the US in a ‘benign alliance’ as long as Korea was not hostile towards China,” Chun said.

Economic opportunities in a reunified Korea could further induce Chinese acquiescence, he said.

The diplomatic cables warn, however, that China would not accept the presence of U.S. troops north of the demilitarized zone that currently forms the North-South border.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China would not comment specifically on the cables.

“China consistently supports dialogue between the North and South sides of the Korean peninsula to improve their relations,” Hong said at a regularly scheduled news conference.

In the leaked cable, Chun predicts the government in Pyongyang would last no more than three years following the death of ailing leader Kim Jong Il, who is seeking to transfer power to his youngest son Kim JongUn, a political ingenue in his 20s.

Chun also dismisses the possibility of Chinese military intervention if North Korea descended into chaos.

Despite that, China is preparing to handle any outbreaks of unrest along the border that could follow a collapse of the regime. Chinese officials say they could deal with up to 300,000 refugees, but might have to seal the border to maintain order, the memos say, citing an unidentified representative of an international aid group.

Chinese officials are also quoted using mocking language in reference to North Korea, pointing to tensions between the two neighbors in contrast to official statements underscoring strong historical ties.

Then-Deputy Foreign Minister He Yafei is quoted as telling a U.S. official in April 2009 that Pyongyang was acting like a “spoiled child” by staging a missile test in an attempt to achieve its demand of bilateral talks with Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that WikiLeaks acted illegally in posting the leaked documents. Officials around the world have said the disclosure jeopardizes national security, diplomats, intelligence assets and relationships between foreign governments.

Five international media organizations, including The New York Times and Britain’s Guardian newspaper, were among those to receive the documents in advance. WikiLeaks is also slowly posting all the material on its own site.

 

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Scientist: North Korea built Uranium enriching facility

Posted by Admin on November 21, 2010

Cascades of gas centrifuges are used to enrich...

Uranium Enrichment Facilities

SEOUL, South Korea – In secret and with remarkable speed, North Korea has built a new, highly sophisticated facility to enrich uranium, according to an American nuclear scientist, raising fears that the North is ramping up its atomic program despite international pressure.

The scientist, Siegfried Hecker, said in a report posted Saturday that he was taken during a recent trip to the North’s main Yongbyon atomic complex to a small industrial-scale uranium enrichment facility. It had 2,000 recently completed centrifuges, he said, and the North told him it was producing low-enriched uranium meant for a new reactor. He described his first glimpse of the new centrifuges as “stunning.”

Hecker, a former director of the U.S. Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory who is regularly given rare glimpses of the North’s secretive nuclear program, acknowledged that it was not clear what North Korea stood to gain by showing him the formerly secret area.

The revelation could be designed to strengthen the North Korean government as it looks to transfer power from leader Kim Jong Il to a young, unproven son. As Washington and others tighten sanctions, unveiling the centrifuges could also be an attempt by Pyongyang to force a resumption of stalled international nuclear disarmament-for-aid talks.

Whatever the reason, the new centrifuges provide a fresh set of worries for the Obama administration, which has shunned direct negotiations with the North following Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests last year and in the wake of an international finding that a North Korean torpedo sank a South Korean warship in March, killing 46 sailors. The U.S. State Department announced that the Obama administration’s special envoy on North Korea planned to visit South Korea, Japan and China, starting Sunday.

The North told Hecker it began construction on the centrifuges in April 2009 and finished only a few days before the scientist’s Nov. 12 visit.

“Instead of seeing a few small cascades of centrifuges, which I believed to exist in North Korea, we saw a modern, clean centrifuge plant of more than a thousand centrifuges, all neatly aligned and plumbed below us,” Hecker, a Stanford University professor, wrote.

Hecker described the control room as “astonishingly modern,” writing that, unlike other North Korean facilities, it “would fit into any modern American processing facility.”

The facilities appeared to be primarily for civilian nuclear power, not for North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, Hecker said. He saw no evidence of continued plutonium production at Yongbyon. But, he said, the uranium enrichment facilities “could be readily converted to produce highly enriched uranium bomb fuel.”

Uranium enrichment would give the North a second way to make atomic bombs, in addition to its known plutonium-based program. At low levels, uranium can be used in power reactors, but at higher levels it can be used in nuclear bombs. Hecker’s findings were first reported in The New York Times.

U.S. nuclear envoy Stephen Bosworth’s trip to Asia for talks on North Korea comes as new satellite images show construction under way at Yongbyon. That, combined with reports from Hecker and another American expert who recently traveled to the atomic complex, appear to show that Pyongyang is keeping its pledge to build a nuclear power reactor.

North Korea vowed in March to build a light-water reactor using its own nuclear fuel. Hecker, and Jack Pritchard, a former U.S. envoy for negotiations with North Korea, have said that construction has begun.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the Seoul-based University of North Korean Studies, said the North’s uranium disclosure is meant to force the United States back into nuclear negotiations.

The disclosure, Yang said, also is aimed at a domestic audience during the succession process. “The North wants to muster loyalty among military generals by showing them the North will continue to bolster its nuclear deterrent and uphold its military-first policy,” Yang said.

Light-water reactors are ostensibly for civilian energy purposes, but such a power plant would give the North a reason to enrich uranium. While light-water reactors are considered less prone to misuse than heavy-water reactors, once the process of uranium enrichment is mastered, it is relatively easy to enrich further to weapons-grade levels.

North Korea said last year it was in the final stage of enriching uranium, sparking worries that the country may add uranium-based weapons to enlarge its stockpile of atomic bombs made from plutonium. Experts say the North has yielded enough weaponized plutonium for at least a half dozen atomic bombs.

Uranium can be enriched in relatively inconspicuous factories that are better able to evade spy satellite detection, according to U.S. and South Korean experts. Uranium-based bombs may also work without requiring test explosions like the two carried out by North Korea in 2006 and 2009 for plutonium-based weapons.

Hecker said the North Koreans emphasized that the centrifuge facility was operating; although he couldn’t verify that statement, he said “it was not inconsistent with what we saw.”

“The only hope” for dealing with the North’s nuclear program “appears to be engagement,” he wrote, calling a military attack “out of the question” and more sanctions “likewise a dead end.”

Many questions are still unanswered about North Korea’s nuclear program, Hecker wrote, including whether the North is really pursuing nuclear electricity; whether it’s abandoning plutonium production; how it got such sophisticated centrifuge technology; and why it’s revealing the facilities now.

“One thing is certain,” he said. “These revelations will cause a political firestorm.”

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Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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With succession set, North Korea throws a party

Posted by Admin on October 11, 2010

PYONGYANG, North KoreaNorth Korean leader Kim Jong Il brought dancers at the “Arirang” mass games to tears Saturday by making a rare appearance at the dance extravaganza, accompanied by son KimJong Un, on the second day of celebrations of the ruling Workers’ Party‘s 65th anniversary.

Kim Jong Il waved to the crowd, drawing a frenzy of applause from onlookers at Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium, in what is believed to be his first appearance at the song-and-dance performance in years. The son slated to succeed him as leader of North Korea was by his side, broadcaster APTN said.

Pyongyang was in a festive mood as North Korea marked the anniversary of the founding of the ruling party with a weekend of celebrations that will culminate in a massive military parade Sunday.

Even in a country known for its elaborately staged displays of military might, the scale and pomp of the festivities — less than two weeks after Kim Jong Il’s re-election to the party’s top post and the news that his 20-something son would succeed his father and grandfather as leader — suggested something special.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: AP Seoul Bureau Chief Jean H. Lee and photographer Vincent Yu were among a small group of foreign journalists allowed into North Korea for events surrounding the 65th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Worker’s Party and the anointment of Kim Jong Un as the nation’s next leader.

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“This is a very important event because it’s being held after Kim Jong Un’s debut as heir-apparent,” said Yoo Ho-yeol, a professor of North Korean studies at Korea University in Seoul.

The festivities began Friday night with fireworks that lit up the sky over central Pyongyang, footage from TV news agency APTN showed. Students danced across the city’s plazas and brass bands played “Please Receive the Best Wishes of the People,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported.

On Saturday, North Korea’s top leadership gathered at May Day Stadium for speeches celebrating the Workers’ Party anniversary, and Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un stayed on to see the Arirang performance that evening along with visiting top Chinese Communist Party official Zhou Yongkang, a member of China’s Politburo.

The two Kims’ appearance turned the Arirang extravaganza — part theater, part circus, and involving some 100,000 performers singing, dancing and flying through the air — into a VIP event attended by wartime heroes, foreign dignitaries and the international press, who were given front-row seats to record the spectacle.

The party culminates Sunday with the staging of a massive parade through the streets, the largest in the country’s history, North Korean officials told APTN. The extravaganza will feature a phalanx of tanks, more than 16,000 troops and a display of the regime’s prized missiles and military weaponry, according to South Korean officials.

There was no confirmation Saturday that Kim Jong Un would join his father in presiding over the parade from a viewing platform at Kim Il Sung Plaza, named after his grandfather. But the campaign to introduce him to the North Korean people — and the world — has been gaining momentum since his name first appeared in state media on Sept. 27 in a dispatch announcing his promotion to four-star general.

If he does appear, it would be by far his most public appearance yet.

The parade was expected to be aired live on state TV in an unusual departure from broadcasting norms in North Korea, where any broadcasts are heavily censored. And in a radical policy shift by a government typically wary of the international press, a reporter and photographer from The Associated Press were invited to Pyongyang to cover the event, along with select foreign TV crews.

Yoo predicted that Kim Jong Un would not only appear at the parade, but that he would be in full military dress and bedecked with medals and insignia as befits a top official in a country run under a “military first” policy. In the few photos published since his debut, the baby-faced son has been clad in civilian clothing.

It would be a heady debut for the mysterious young man who until two weeks ago was a virtual unknown outside North Korea’s inner circle of military and political elite.

Kim Jong Un is the third son of Kim Jong Il but his name never appeared in state media until late last month, and even the exact spelling of his name was unclear.

Nor were they any photos of him as an adult until the state’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper last week published a group shot of the young man seated with his father and other top party leaders. This week, state television showed still images of father and son watching a military unit carry out live-fire drills.

The Swiss-educated son said to be his 68-year-old father’s favorite emerged in recent months as the rumored front-runner to inherit the mantle of leadership, despite his youth and inexperience. There were reports that children were singing odes to “the Young Commander,” and that his January birthday had been made a national holiday like those of his father and grandfather.

He won his first military post with the promotion to general late last month, and was appointed during the nation’s biggest political convention in 30 years to the Workers’ Party’s central military commission, as well as the party’s Central Committee — strong signs he was being groomed to eventually succeed his father.

On Friday, a top North Korean official confirmed Kim Jong Un’s future role in an exclusive interview with APTN.

“Our people take pride in the fact that they are blessed with great leaders from generation to generation,” said Yang Hyong Sop, a member of the powerful political bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party.

“Our people are honored to serve the great President Kim Il Sung and the great leader Kim Jong Il,” he added. “Now we also have the honor of serving young Gen. Kim Jong Un.”

The question of who will take over leadership of the nuclear-armed nation of 24 million has been a pressing one since the last big military parade in 2008.

At the parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in September 2008, Kim Jong Il was noticeably absent. U.S. and South Korean officials said Kim had suffered a stroke, sparking concerns about a power struggle and social upheaval if he were to die without a clear successor.

Though thinner and grayer, Kim has resumed busy rounds of tours to factories and military units. And a surprise trip to China in late August may have been to introduce his son to top officials in the neighboring nation that is North Korea’s most important ally and source of aid.

Though officials in Beijing and Pyongyang never confirmed whether Kim Jong Un accompanied his father on that trip, highly publicized stops at sites dear to the late President Kim Il Sung pointedly reminded North Korean people of the Kim family’s political heritage.

Kim Il Sung was a former guerrilla who fought against Japan’s colonization of Korea and built a cult of personality around him and his son. Kim Jong Il took over as leader when his father died in 1994 in what was the communist world’s first hereditary transfer of power.

Kim Jong Il rules under a “songun,” or “military first,” policy with a 1.2 million-member military that is one of the world’s largest. Along with military manpower and weaponry, North Korea under his leadership has been building up its nuclear arsenal, much to the consternation of other nations.

Military parades have long been a way for the regime to bolster pride as well as show off its military hardware to the outside world, analyst Yoo said.

“They are going to try to prove that their military might is nothing to be underestimated,” he said in Seoul.

This year’s rendition of the Arirang performance underlined the Kim family legacy, starting with Kim Il Sung’s role in leading Koreans in fighting colonial occupier Japan and revisiting son Kim Jong Il’s pledge to help North Koreans surmount economic difficulties by building up the economy through scientific achievement.

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Associated Press writers Kwang-tae Kim and Sangwon Yoon in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

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