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SKorean leader urges strong army, citing threat

South Korea Koreas Nuclear

SKorean leader urges strong army, citing threat

SEOUL, South Korea – President Lee Myung-bak said Thursday that South Korea should strengthen its armed forces to cope with a continuing nuclear threat from North Korea despite recent conciliatory gestures.

After raising tensions with nuclear and missile tests earlier this year, North Korea released several American and South Korean detainees, announced it would resume joint projects with Seoul and offered direct talks with the U.S.

Seoul and Washington are studying the offers but have shown no signs of easing pressure on North Korea to disarm through U.N. sanctions imposed after its May nuclear test.

Lee warned that North Korea’s nuclear program continues to threaten stability on the Korean peninsula, and South Korea must not “let its guard down at any time.”

“It’s true that we need a dialogue with North Korea,” Lee said in a televised speech marking Armed Forces Day. But he added, “South-North Korean dialogue and peace will be advanced when we have a strong military with a firm readiness.”

On Wednesday, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said the country would make decisions on nuclear disarmament “in relation to U.S. policy” toward it.

In response, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters that North Korea will continue to face isolation and “significant” sanctions if it is unwilling to give up its nuclear program.

Also Wednesday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told reporters in Seoul that Washington is open to dialogue with North Korea if it helps get international nuclear disarmament talks started again, and urged the North to take advantage of the chance.

“There’s a tremendous opportunity now for them to take a constructive measure,” he said.

North Korea has been insisting on one-on-one talks with the U.S. since quitting broader six-nation talks on its nuclear program in April. Washington, which had demanded that the North first return to the six-party talks, is now considering direct talks to push disarmament discussions forward.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is to travel to North Korea next week, raising hopes that he could help produce a breakthrough in the nuclear row. China, North Korea’s biggest source of economic aid and diplomatic support, could be key in pushing for the resumption of the six-nation talks.

Wen also is to meet Lee and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in three-way talks Oct. 10 in Beijing that are expected to focus on North Korea’s nuclear program and regional cooperation. Lee and Hatoyama will hold bilateral talks a day earlier in Seoul, Lee’s office announced Thursday.

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N.Korea says in last stage of enriching uranium

N Korea (Kim Jong Il)

N.Korea says in last stage of enriching uranium

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SEOUL  – North Korea said on Friday it was closer to a second way of making nuclear weapons, a move analysts saw as a new tactic to put pressure on the international community after a month of conciliatory gestures.

The chief U.S. envoy for the North, Stephen Bosworth, said the enrichment claim was “of concern”, while Russia described the announcement as “very alarming”.

Bosworth was in Beijing on a trip to Asia to discuss ways to bring Pyongyang back to long-stalled negotiations on giving up its nuclear ambitions.

“Experimental uranium enrichment has successfully been conducted to enter into completion phase,” the North’s KCNA news agency quoted its United Nations delegation as saying in a letter to the head of the U.N. Security Council (UNSC).

The United States has long suspected the North of having a secret programme to enrich uranium for weapons. Experts have said it has not developed anything near a full-scale uranium programme while it has enough plutonium for six to eight bombs.

“I think for all of us, it reconfirms the necessity to maintain a coordinated position on the need for complete, verifiable denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula,” Bosworth said, after meetings with Chinese officials.

The North said its latest steps were in response to tighter sanctions.

“These reports cannot but provoke concern,” Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted an unidentified Foreign Ministry official as saying

“A very alarming precedent is being created by such an open and demonstrative disdain for resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.”

At the United Nations, the mission of the United States, which currently holds the Security Council presidency, said it had received the North Korean letter and circulated it to the other 14 members of the council.

U.N. sanctions have hurt the impoverished North’s arms trade, one of its few significant exports, and analysts said it may be angered its latest attempts at conciliation with the outside world have been largely rebuffed.

The United States has refused to ease up on the sanctions, and sent its point man for their enforcement to Asia last month to build support.

“Now they (North Korea) are taking the road that they know will drive a response out of all countries — the military way — and leaving them to decide what to do,” said Cho Myung-chul, an expert on the North at the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy.

North Korea added that reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel rods was at its final phase and extracted plutonium was being weaponised.

“We are prepared for both dialogue and sanctions. If some permanent members of the UNSC wish to put sanctions first before dialogue, we would respond with bolstering our nuclear deterrence first before we meet them in a dialogue.”

In another move that serves as a reminder of the tension on the divided peninsula, a North Korean patrol vessel crossed briefly into the South’s waters on Friday but returned without incident, the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

“They are taking a mixed strategy, which I would call the sweet and sour approach. This keeps their adversaries guessing and it makes it more difficult to formulate policy,” said Peter Beck, research fellow at Stanford University and a specialist on Korean affairs.

Market players, used to North Korea blowing hot and cold, said the latest rumblings had little impact on early trading.

Pyongyang laid the blame squarely on the U.N. Security Council for imposing sanctions over its rocket launch in April and ignoring one by South Korea late last month.

“Had the UNSC, from the very beginning, not made an issue of the DPRK’s (North Korea’s) peaceful satellite launch in the same way as it kept silent over the satellite launch conducted by South Korea on August 25, 2009, it would not have compelled the DPRK to take strong counteraction such as its 2nd nuclear test.

Pyongyang said its launch was to put a communications satellite into space. Others said it was to test a ballistic missile with the potential to hit U.S. territory.

The North has already tested two plutonium-based nuclear devices, the one in May triggering tightened international sanctions.

It reiterated on Friday its opposition to six-country talks over its nuclear weapons programme, talks it walked away from last December. The talks among the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the United States offered Pyongyang massive aid and an end to isolation if it gives up efforts to build an atomic arsenal.

North Korea in the past month released two U.S. journalists, a South Korean worker and fishermen it had held in separate incidents. It ended border restrictions it placed on the South and sought to resume frozen business projects with its neighbour.

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Ban Ki-Moon – U.N.’s Ban says willing to visit North Korea

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Ban Ki-Moon – U.N.’s Ban says willing to visit North Korea

Ban Ki-Moon, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday he is willing to visit North Korea to defuse tensions over the communist country’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

“Whatever I can do as the secretary-general I am willing to do, including my own visit to Pyongyang at this time,” Ban told a news conference.

“I need to find out when would be an appropriate timing for me to visit. I am not able to give you any answer at this time,” said Ban, who was South Korea’s foreign minister before becoming U.N. chief in 2007.

In the last two months North Korea has conducted its second nuclear test, test-fired seven ballistic missiles and boycotted six-party talks on ending its nuclear weapons program in exchange for economic, political and diplomatic benefits.

Those talks include the two Koreas, China, Russia, the United States and Japan. Ban said he was “deeply concerned” by recent developments on the Korean Peninsula and that while he still supported the six-party talks, “if necessary there should be some other forms of dialogue.”

The U.N. chief welcomed what he said was North Korea’s willingness to engage in direct dialogue with the United States. “That I would like to support and welcome,” he said.

Since Ban moved to the United Nations, there has been speculation he might visit North Korea, but the North has not said publicly it would welcome him.

The U.N. Security Council angered North Korea by imposing sanctions this year on 13 entities and individuals involved in nuclear and missile work in the reclusive state.

Ban backed the council’s action, saying it had “sent a very strong and clear message to Pyongyang that the international community will not accept nuclear weapons in the DPRK (North Korea).”

He also said he had made two previously undisclosed appeals to North Korea to release two U.S. journalists it has held since March.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee of the U.S. media group Current TV were arrested near the China-North Korea border, convicted of “great crimes” and sentenced to 12 years hard labor.

“On two occasions I have conveyed my strong wish and appeal even to the DPRK authorities that they should look at this issue and release them, even on humanitarian grounds,” Ban said, declining to elaborate.


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