Ri Su-young to attend regional meeting in Malaysia: official

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North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong will attend a regional meeting of foreign ministers in Malaysia next week, a Malaysian foreign ministry official said Wednesday.

North Korea has informed Malaysia of Ri’s attendance at the ASEAN Regional Forum to be held in Kuala Lumpur on Aug. 6, the official told Yonhap News Agency by phone, requesting anonymity.

Whether Ri would attend the forum has been the focus of attention as it could set the stage for a meeting between the two Koreas’ top diplomats.

Ri will be accompanied by Kim Chang-min, director-general of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s Bureau of International Organizations, the official added.

South Korea has not formally proposed talks with the North in Malaysia, but it has always been open to dialogue with its communist neighbor, officials here have said.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se is scheduled to visit the Malaysian capital from Aug. 4-6 to attend a series of ASEAN-related meetings, including the ARF.

Last year, Yun and Ri briefly met each other on the sidelines of the ARF meeting in Myanmar, but they did not hold talks.

The two could encounter again this year, but meaningful talks are unlikely, according to Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Unification Strategy Studies Program at Sejong Institute, a Seoul-based private think tank.

He cited South Korea’s recent efforts to increase international pressure on North Korea over its human rights abuses.

“It’s possible Ri will completely ignore Yun,” he said at a roundtable with reporters. “The main reason North Korea is taking part in the ARF meeting is for its economic interests as it seeks to secure more imports of natural resources from Southeast Asian nations.”

North Korea has bristled at any mention of its human rights situation despite reports of gross abuses, including public executions, torture and holding hundreds of thousands of political prisoners in concentration camps.

Last month, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights opened a field office in Seoul to monitor and document human rights violations in the North, to which Pyongyang responded with threats of war. In protest, it boycotted the Summer Universiade held in South Korea earlier this month.

North Korea claims the human rights allegations are part of a U.S.-led campaign to topple its regime.

The two Koreas held foreign ministerial talks at ARF meetings in 2000, 2004, 2005 and 2007, after which there were only brief encounters between the ministers in 2008 and 2011.

Aside from a possible meeting between the Koreas, the ARF gathering will also be watched closely for other bilateral meetings, such as between North Korea and China.

Relations between Pyongyang and Beijing have soured over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which Pyongyang has continued to develop despite opposition from its biggest ally and benefactor.

South Korea and the U.S. have repeatedly called on China to play a bigger role in reining in North Korea’s nuclear program.

Those calls have grown since the U.S. and other world powers struck a deal with Iran earlier this month to curb its uranium enrichment program in exchange for extensive sanctions relief.

Hwang Joon-kook, special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, told reporters Tuesday after meeting with officials in China last week that now is an “important time where North Korea stands at a crossroads between completing its development of nuclear weapons and coming to the negotiating table to discuss its denuclearization.” (Yonhap)

 

The Korea Herald

Construction at Korea DPR launch site completed

Construction of facilities to enhance the missile launch pad in North Korea’s northwestern town of Dongchang-ri, appears to have been completed, a U.S. research website said, reinforcing the speculation that Pyongyang may engage in a provocative act in the coming months.

North Korea’s Deputy Ambassador to the U.N. Jang Il-hun (right) is joined by councilor Kwon Jong Gun as he speaks during a news conference on Tuesday at the communist state’s mission in New York. (AP-Yonhap)

Based on its analysis of commercial satellite imagery, 38 North, run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, claimed that a new phase of construction, which began in spring 2015 after the completion of a taller gantry tower, appears to have been completed.

“A movable support platform is probably now finished and apparently is a much larger structure than originally anticipated, measuring about 24 meters long, 30 meters wide and about 33 meters in height,” the website said, adding that a launch-support building at the end of the pad has also been completed.

Each stage of space launch vehicles and payload can be prepared horizontally in the new launch-support building and then transferred to the movable support structure, where they will be erected vertically, checked out and finally moved to the launch tower, the website explained.

Speculation has been rising that Pyongyang could set off military provocations around Oct. 10, the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, in order to strengthen national unity and show off its military strength to the outside world.

The U.S. website, however, pointed out that there are still no indications that any test preparations are underway to support a long-range rocket launch. It also noted that there was no public evidence to suggest that a decision had been made by the North Korean leadership to push ahead with a missile launch.

“In the coming weeks, if preparations are indeed underway, we would expect to see other on-the ground indications at Sohae (the launch site) including increased rail activity and the possible arrival of missile-related railcars, activity at facilities associated with rocket assembly, the filling of oxidizer and fuel storage tanks associated with the launch pad, activity at range radars intended to track a launch and possibly the arrival of VIPs to observe a launch,” 38 North said.

Explaining the new facilities at the launch site, a Seoul official said that based on his analysis of the imagery, he has yet to discover any facilities which will be used to assemble each stage of a rocket for a launch.

“There were no facilities yet for the assembly of rocket components,” he said, declining to be named.

“Should the North launch a long-range rocket, it would separate each stage of the rocket, which has been developed at a factory near Pyongyang, then transport the parts via train or other vehicles to Dongchang-ri, and then put them together there for a launch.”

Regarding speculation of the North’s possible provocation, Pyongyang’s Deputy Ambassador to the U.N. Jang Il-hun told the press that his country is “free to do anything” as a sovereign state.

“We made it clear in the past that North Korea would respond to the U.S.’ military deterrence and pressure, with our modernized, expanded and strengthened nuclear weapons,” he said.

“Among all these possibilities, none of them has been ruled out, though I am not in a position to tell you about what exactly will happen.”

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said its military authorities and government are closely monitoring North Korea’s military activities, as there has always been the possibility of a North Korean provocation.

“We are prepared and ready to make our due, legitimate response should something (regarding the North) transpire,” ministry spokesperson Jeong Jun-hee said during a regular press briefing.

By Song Sang-ho(sshluck@heraldcorp.com)

The Korea Herald

Kim Jong-un inspects ‘war drills’ against United States and Korea Republic

 

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has inspected a high-profile Air Force combat contest, describing it as part of “war preparations” against the United States and South Korea, Pyongyang’s state media said Thursday.

Kim flew to the expanded Kalma Airport in Wonsan along the country’s east coast on his special plane, Chammae-1, to “guide” the Combat Aeronautics Contest, said the Korean Central News Agency. As usual, it did not specify the date. Wonsan is known as his hometown.

The contest was the second of its kind in the North’s seven-decade history, according to the KCNA.

It was held on the occasion of the 62nd anniversary of the Armistice Agreement that has effectively ended the 1950-53 Korean War. The North celebrates it as Victory Day.

Kim said the contest was intended to “bring about a radical turn in the drills to round off preparations for a war full of the will to settle with arms accounts with the U.S. imperialists, the chieftain of aggression, and the South Korean puppet group keen to escalate the confrontation with the fellow countrymen and that of social systems, seized with sycophancy toward the U.S.,” the KCNA said in its English-version report.

In an ensuing speech, Army Gen. Ri Yong-gil, chief of the General Staff of the North’s military, also said the peninsula is on the brink of another conflict like the Korean War.

Ri accused the U.S. and South Korea of continuing “distortions and reckless war plots.”

On Wednesday, the North’s foreign ministry demanded the allies stop their regular joint defense exercises first in order to resume dialogue.

It said talks are not being held due to Washington’s “hostile policy” on Pyongyang.

The U.S. is misleading public opinions through distortions, an unnamed ministry spokesman said, citing remarks by Sydney Seiler, Washington’s special envoy for the six-party talks.

On his trip to Seoul earlier this week, Seiler said his government is willing to talk with the North with flexibility shown in the nuclear deal with Iran.

“Dialogue won’t be held and the vicious cycle of worsening security situations will continue before the U.S. shows its seriousness on dialogue by halting joint military trainings,” the spokesman said.

It was confirmed that the North’s Air Force chief has been promoted to a four-star general, another sign that the young leader Kim places more emphasis on the Air Force.

A photo released by the North’s media showed Choe Yong-ho, who commands the Air and Anti-Air Force of the Korean People’s Army, being put on the rank of a four-star general.

Choe was a three-star commander when he made a public appearance for Kim’s “field guidance” for female pilots on June 22.

Choe has apparently emerged as a top military aide to Kim, having accompanied the leader on his public activities more than ten times this year alone. (Yonhap)

 

The Korea Herald

Korea Republic spurns Korea DPR call to stop joint drills with United States

South Korea on Thursday rejected North Korea’s call to end joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises, defending the joint moves as only “defensive” in nature.

“Joint military drills between South Korea and the U.S. are something that are annual and defensive,” Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said in a regular briefing.

The drills cannot be a matter of precondition for inter-Korean exchanges, Kim said. “It is a must-have to prepare against North Korea’s (potential) invasion of the South,” he said.

On Wednesday, North Korea called on the allies to halt the drills in a statement issued by its foreign ministry, saying, “Talks are possible and many other problems can be solved if the U.S. ditches provocative behaviors like joint military drills and decide to go another path.”

The U.S. Defense Department also dismissed the call in a Voice of America report earlier in the day, defending the drills as transparent and regular, with a defensive purpose.

The North has often taken issue with the allies’ joint drills, denouncing them as a rehearsal to invade North Korea. (Yonhap)

The Korea Herald

Korea DPR contacts Italian firm for hacking software: South Korean lawmaker

An Italian cybersecurity firm testified that North Korea had contacted the company to purchase hacking software programs, a South Korean opposition lawmaker said Thursday.

South Korea’s top intelligence agency recently admitted to purchasing similar software from the Milan-based Hacking Team, triggering suspicions that it has carried out illegal surveillance of ordinary citizens.

“Hacking Team even testified to receiving a negotiation deal from North Korea,” said Lee Jong-kul, floor leader of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy.

Lee made the remark during a seminar organized by the NPAD and Seoul-based nonprofit organization Open Net Korea at the National Assembly in Seoul.

The National Intelligence Service maintains that it has used the programs to strengthen cyber warfare capabilities against North Korea.

The software programs use Remote Control System technology, which allows hackers to manipulate and track smartphones and computers by installing spyware.

“If North Korea purchased (hacking software programs), security information of both North Korea and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) could possibly be mixed at Hacking Team,” Lee said.

Hacking Team has said that the company sold software to countries, including South Korea. The company said the sales were strictly within the law.

The NPAD demanded that special prosecutors launch an investigation into the agency.

The ruling Saenuri Party argues that the opposition’s demand only harms the country’s national security.

“The opposition should now stop the act of hurting the national security by raising groundless allegations,” Won Yoo-chul, the party’s floor leader, said during a meeting of the party’s senior legislators. (Yonhap)

The Korea Herald

Korea DPR unveils statues of former leaders

N. Korea unveils statues of former leaders

This photograph, captured by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), on July 23, 2015, shows the statues of the communist state’s former leaders, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. KCNA said the country held a ceremony to celebrate the unveiling of the statues on July 22, 2015 at the North Korean city of Pyongsong. (Yonhap) (END)

Yonhap News