Archive for April, 2008

DPRK planting trees for fruit oil

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

North Korea is intensively planting trees across the country to provide badly needed oil from their berries.

According to Yonhap:

The North, which suffers from a chronic oil shortage, has created Tetradium tree forests covering tens of thousands of hectares in several regions near the western and eastern coasts during the national tree-planting season, according to the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

Some provincial administrations have set up offices to help residents properly understand the economic value of the trees and how to grow them, it added.

Fully mature Tetradium trees, also known as Evodia or Bee Bee trees, can each produce 7-10 kilograms of small berries composed of 38 percent oil. North Koreans use the oil, traditionally used as lamp oil, to make cooking oil, drugs and soaps, according to the KCNA.

Read the full article here:
N. Korea planting trees for fruit oil


China seeking to outsource animation to DPRK…

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

The article is badly translated, but [seemingly] according to the People’s Daily (h/t Go East) China is looking to outsource programming/animation services to North Korean workers in Dandong:

The main reason to select Dandong city as the China-North Korea animation game service outsourcing base is aimed to draw North Korea’s animation game talents to Dandong. Xu Aiqiao, chairwoman of the Hangzhou national animation game public service platform limited, said that North Korea has become the global animation industry processing “plant”.

With a total staff of 2,500, the base will not only reduce at least 5,000 yuan per minute for the production costs of animation companies, but inject more energy into the creative plans, original scripts, and other areas of China’s high-end animation talents of the animation game.

Read the full article here:
Hangzhou game service outsourcing base to make up 80 pct of domestic animation production
People’s Daily


South Korea cuts Kaesong subsidies with predictable results

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

The Daily NK reports that South Korean businesses have delayed moving into the zone, or canceled their plans outright:

78.5 percent of those firms which received lots at the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the second round of the first stage of distribution in June last year have not begun construction of their facilities. 62.4 percent of them have not even hired a firm for construction,” said the Korea Federation of Small and Medium Business (KFSB) in a report released on April 27. For the report, the KFSB selected 85 firms out of all those firms which received lots and conducted a survey on how these firms are preparing their move into the Complex.

Companies distributed with lots in June last year are required to begin construction of their facilities within two years after the initial distribution contract. It is true that these firms have enough time to build their facilities. However, a number of firms have expressed that they would not move into the Complex.

The report says, “13 out of a total of 167 firms have already told the KFSB that they would not move into the Complex, and five of them have canceled the contract.”

59 percent of the firms including those 13 said that they would relinquish their rights to move into the complex because they are unable to raise enough money. 64 percent of these firms said that the reduced government funding has contributed to their financial difficulties.

Read the full article here:
South Korean Firms Postpone Their Move into the Kaesong Industrial Complex
Daily NK
Choi Choel Hee


North Korea and Sex…

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Why is this topic being discussed on North Korean Economy Watch?

Well, economics is often accused of being an “imperial” science by other disciplines because, broadly defined, economics looks at human choice and the constraints, trade-offs, and incentives under which these choices are made.  This broad definition irritates sociologists, anthropologists, and political scientists because economists are always moving in to explain social phenomenon on their “turf.”  In this light, though, economics does have something to say about sexual social norms because they play a significant role in a significant number of every-day choices that people make, particularly in what are traditionally considered “economic choices”…even in North Korea.

On to the topic…
One would think that in North Korea—where personal associations and loyalties are particularly important and highly regulated—that non-marital sexual encounters would be highly suspicious and discouraged, but a recent article in Radio Free Asia makes the opposite claim:

[W]hen it comes to the privacy of the bedroom, even the all-powerful North Korean Workers’ Party is largely hands-off, according to North Korean defectors.

Intellectuals and artists in the Workers’ Paradise have long espoused a fairly open and liberal set of views around sexual relationships, according to former North Korean artist and defector Lee Yoon Jeong, despite a widespread lack of sex education for young people.

Apparently, pre-, extra-, and post- marital sex is so common that even the Workers Party doesn’t ban it:

Lee said high divorce rates, and the tendency for Party officials to have mistresses and extra-marital affairs, meant that the Party was reticent about dictating to the people about their love lives.

“The Workers’ Party is truly in no position to regulate relationships between men and women,” she told reporter Jinhee Bonny. “The authorities may control everything, but they could never dictate matters of love between North Korean men and women.”

The artcle also makes the claim that prostitution is fairly common now and that illegal abortions are taking place.  If this is the case, then North Korea is only the second communist country I am aware of where abortion is/was technically illegal (the other being Ceauceascu’s Romania).  Does anyone know any differently?

Read the full article here:

Love and Sex in North Korea
Radio Free Asia
Jinhee Bonny


NKIDP Document in focus: North Korea in 1956

Monday, April 28th, 2008

Summary by James Person, North Korea International Documentation Project:

This Document (full journal article including documents here) consists of a memorandum of a conversation between DPRK Ambassador Li Sangjo to Moscow and Soviet Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs N.T. Fedorenko, as well as a letter addressed to N.S. Khrushchev. Li sought a meeting with either Khrushchev or A.I. Mikoyan to press upon the Soviet leadership the gravity of the situation inside the DPRK and KWP CC following the historic 1956 August Plenum.
In the letter, Li described in detail the actions of the party leadership after being criticized both before and during the August Plenum by opponents to Kim Il Sung’s development strategies. Although the existing historiography, as well as North Korean propaganda characterizes the events of August 1956 as an attempted coup, Li suggested that the challenge was a democratic one aimed at eliminating the serious consequences of the personality cult and ensuring intra-party democracy and collective leadership, completely in accordance with the statutes of the KWP accepted at the Third Party Congress in April 1956. However, sycophantic and hostile elements in the party leadership “took revenge” on those who “courageously” criticized them. Li, who had long been a proponent of outside intervention, encouraged fraternal assistance. Despite the failure of earlier attempts to press upon Kim Il Sung the need to reform through comradely criticism by fraternal leaders, Li asked that a senior Soviet official be sent to Pyongyang to call a new plenum with all present, including the purged members of what became known as the “consumer goods group.” Li also indicated that he had sent a similar request to Mao Zedong.

Read the documents from the Soviet archives, including historical context here.


Pak Do ik first to carry Olympic flame in Pyongyang

Monday, April 28th, 2008

UPDATE: You Tube has video footage of the Pyongyang leg of the Olympic torch relay taken from foreign news sources.  Judging from the videos, it looks like the ceremony kicked off at the Tower of the Juche Idea, and Pak Do ik was the first relay runner.

Here is coverage on CNN  (the announcers make at least two mistakes.  They identify the paper flowers people are waiving as Kimjongilia, and they call Kim Jong Il North Korea’s “President”– let’s get with the program people).

Here is coverage on Russian Television.

Here is more extensive print coverage from the AP.

I still have not managed to find the entire olympic torch route in Pyongyang or official DPRK coverage of the event.  If you find this information, please let me know.


North Korea’s most famous footballer (domestically), Pak Do ik, will be carrying the Olympic torch (for the first time ever) through Pyongyang:

pakdoik.jpgPak was introduced to modern western audiences through his appearance in the documentary The Game of Their Lives, released in 2002.  He scored the winning goal against Italy in the 1966 World Cup allowing the DPRK to enter the quarter finals (where the the DPRK lost to Portugal after being up 3-0 early on).

80 individuals were selected for the torch relay, and most are DPRK citizens with significant athletic accomplishments under their belts–such as Jong Song-ok, who won the 1999 World Athletics Championship. The remainder of the runners are officials with the International Olympic Committee, the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang, representatives of Chinese residents in North Korea and major sponsors of the torch relay.

It also looks like the torch might cross the DMZ: 

The torch is set to pass from South Korea to North Korea in the early hours of April 28 before heading to Vietnam that evening aboard a flight.

The 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) section linking Juche Tower to Kim Il Sung Stadium, both major landmarks in Pyongyang, was chosen for the event, it said.

It indicated Pyongyang citizens will be mobilized to stand along the street while the torch passes, by saying, “A large welcoming crowd will cheer for the torch runners.” (Joong Ang Daily)

UPDATE: According to Yohnap, the torch will be flown from Seoul to Pyongyang.  

Read the full article here:
Athletes selected to carry the torch in North Korea 
Joong Ang Daily

N.K. preparations for torch relay almost complete: KCNA


Is South Korea’s engagement hindering the growth of North Korea’s markets?

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

On April 23, the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP)hosted, “The Lee Myung-Bak Administration’s Policy toward North Korea: Denuclearization or Disengagement.”  In this seminar they essentially answered this question with a ‘yes’.

According to the Daily NK coverage of the event:

[Dong Yong Seung, the Chief of the Security and Economics Department of the Samsung Economic Research Institute stated,] “While economic exchange between North Korea and China has been business-to-business, in the case of Kaesong, the exchange has been controlled from a single control tower, the North Korean regime. That is, the condition has been set up for government-to-government economic exchange to facilitate North Korean government’s planned economy. Economic cooperation in the style of South Korea’s has been obstructing North Korea’s rational transformation.”

In a sense, he is arguing that South Korea’s support for the Kaesong Zone yields results more similar to foreign aid than private economic exchange.  If this is the case, South Korea, and just about everyone else, could learn from China’s strategy for investing in North Korea.

As Judge Posner put it:

All the problems that foreign aid seeks to alleviate are within the power of the recipient countries to solve if they adopt sensible policies. If they do not adopt such policies, then foreign aid is likely to be stolen by the ruling elite, strengthening its hold over the country, or otherwise squandered. What we can do for poor countries is reduce tariff barriers to their exports. With money saved from eliminating foreign aid, we could compensate our industries that would be hurt by import competition from poor countries and thus reduce political opposition to tariff reform.


Food situation in Ryanggang Province

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

According to the Daily NK, many mid-level civil servants who used to receive enough rations to live on have now resorted to trading in the markets with the civilians.

“Since April, the government has only been giving out provisions to the head of each department of the People’s Safety Agency in Hyesan, Yangkang Province. As for the remaining staff, only 15-days worth of one-serving provisions have been supplied. The discontent among the agents of the People’s Safety Agency over the discrimination is quite significant.”

“With conditions worstening, those who have not been engaging in sales until now—the Provincial People’s Committee or the Municipal Committee leaders and average schoolteachers, doctors and their families—have been coming out to the alleyway markets. They do not even have a street-stand in a jangmadang, so they sit illegally in the alleyways, but the People’s Safety agents in charge of regulating the jangmadang have been reluctant to take action against them because they know who these people are.”

Is anyone starving?  Thankfully, it seems not yet..

In response to the question as to whether people have begun to starve to death as a result of the food shortage, the sources confirmed, “We have not reached that point yet.”

Our contact in Yangkang Province said, “During the ‘March of Starvation’, we did not even have brewers’ grains to eat, but now, people feed that to the pigs. It is true that living conditions have become a bit more difficult with the rise in food prices, but it has not reached the point of starvation.”

The Hoiryeong source also said, “With the significant rise in food price, the quality and the amount of rice have fallen quite a bit, but people have not been starving for days at a time. People who previously consumed only rice are now mixing rice and corn 50/50, and those in more dire situations eat 30/70 or 20/80.”  

The food situation in Ryanggang is probably better then most of the country on average due to its proximity to the Chinese border.

The full story can be read here:
The Price of Rice Has Risen, But Not to the Point of Starvation
Daily NK
Lee Sung Jin


Syria-DPRK nuclear cooperation

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

Pictured above (Google Earth): Syria’s Dair Alzour/Al Kibar nuclear facility before it was destroyed in an Israeli raid.  The Wikipedia page for the operation is here.

UPDATE 11 (2011-5-24): ISIS issued this commentary on the IAEA report below.

UPDATE 10 (2011-5-24): This report of the Director General to the Board of Governors [of the IAEA] is on the implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Syrian Arab Republic (Syria). The report (PDF) includes the Agency’s assessment of the nature of the destroyed building at the Dair Alzour site.

UPDATE 9 (2011-2-25): The Director General reported to the Board of Governors of the IAEA on the implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement with Syria. The report (PDF) focuses on the destroyed Syrian Facility.

UPDATE 8(2011-2-11): ISIS publishes information on a possible uranium enrichment facility in Syria (HTML, PDF).  The report does not specifically mention the DPRK, which also recently made public its uranium enrichment capabilities.

UPDATE 7 (2008-5-12): ISIS published this report (PDF) featuring satellite analysis of the Syrian reactor.

UPDATE 6 (2008-4-25): The CIA briefed Congress on Syria’s nuclear reactor. Here is the video they produced (YouTube).


The video was covered in the Washington Post:

A video taken inside a secret Syrian facility last summer convinced the Israeli government and the Bush administration that North Korea was helping to construct a reactor similar to one that produces plutonium for North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, according to senior U.S. officials who said it would be shared with lawmakers today.

The officials said the video of the remote site, code-named Al Kibar by the Syrians, shows North Koreans inside. It played a pivotal role in Israel’s decision to bomb the facility late at night last Sept. 6, a move that was publicly denounced by Damascus but not by Washington.

Sources familiar with the video say it also shows that the Syrian reactor core’s design is the same as that of the North Korean reactor at Yongbyon, including a virtually identical configuration and number of holes for fuel rods. It shows “remarkable resemblances inside and out to Yongbyon,” a U.S. intelligence official said. A nuclear weapons specialist called the video “very, very damning.” (Washington Post)

What has been the level of cooperation between Syria and the DPRK?

But beginning today, intelligence officials will tell members of the House and Senate intelligence, armed services and foreign relations committees that the Syrian facility was not yet fully operational and that there was no uranium for the reactor and no indication of fuel capability, according to U.S. officials and intelligence sources.

David Albright, president of Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) and a former U.N. weapons inspector, said the absence of such evidence warrants skepticism that the reactor was part of an active weapons program.

“The United States and Israel have not identified any Syrian plutonium separation facilities or nuclear weaponization facilities,” he said. “The lack of any such facilities gives little confidence that the reactor is part of an active nuclear weapons program. The apparent lack of fuel, either imported or indigenously produced, also is curious and lowers confidence that Syria has a nuclear weapons program.”

U.S. intelligence officials will also tell the lawmakers that Syria is not rebuilding a reactor at the Al Kibar site. “The successful engagement of North Korea in the six-party talks means that it was unlikely to have supplied Syria with such facilities or nuclear materials after the reactor site was destroyed,” Albright said. “Indeed, there is little, if any, evidence that cooperation between Syria and North Korea extended beyond the date of the destruction of the reactor.”

Syria denies it was building nuclear facilities.

UPDATE 5 (2007-10-26): ISIS reports that the Syrians have already hauled off and buried the remains of the facility:

A further examination of the DigitalGlobe imagery featuring the suspected Syrian reactor construction site on October 24, 2007 reveals that in addition to dismantling and removing the building, Syria appears to have buried the foundation (Figures 1 and 2). Syria bulldozed a section of a hill adjacent to the suspected reactor building and used the excavated dirt to cover over the site. Furthermore, if Syria intended to conceal an underground portion to this building that had been subsequently exposed by bombing, burying it would have been easier than removing it. The excavated hill was brought to ISIS’s attention by two close readers of the imagery who noticed it.

Click image below to see before and after pictures:

UPDATE 4 (2007-10-14): Analysts claim Israel struck nuclear site. According to the New York Times:

Israel’s air attack on Syria last month was directed against a site that Israeli and American intelligence analysts judged was a partly constructed nuclear reactor, apparently modeled on one North Korea has used to create its stockpile of nuclear weapons fuel, according to American and foreign officials with access to the intelligence reports.

The description of the target addresses one of the central mysteries surrounding the Sept. 6 attack, and suggests that Israel carried out the raid to demonstrate its determination to snuff out even a nascent nuclear project in a neighboring state. The Bush administration was divided at the time about the wisdom of Israel’s strike, American officials said, and some senior policy makers still regard the attack as premature.

The attack on the reactor project has echoes of an Israeli raid more than a quarter century ago, in 1981, when Israel destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq shortly before it was to have begun operating. That attack was officially condemned by the Reagan administration, though Israelis consider it among their military’s finest moments. In the weeks before the Iraq war, Bush administration officials said they believed that the attack set back Iraq’s nuclear ambitions by many years.

By contrast, the facility that the Israelis struck in Syria appears to have been much further from completion, the American and foreign officials said. They said it would have been years before the Syrians could have used the reactor to produce the spent nuclear fuel that could, through a series of additional steps, be reprocessed into bomb-grade plutonium.

Many details remain unclear, most notably how much progress the Syrians had made in construction before the Israelis struck, the role of any assistance provided by North Korea, and whether the Syrians could make a plausible case that the reactor was intended to produce electricity. In Washington and Israel, information about the raid has been wrapped in extraordinary secrecy and restricted to just a handful of officials, while the Israeli press has been prohibited from publishing information about the attack.

The New York Times reported this week that a debate had begun within the Bush administration about whether the information secretly cited by Israel to justify its attack should be interpreted by the United States as reason to toughen its approach to Syria and North Korea. In later interviews, officials made clear that the disagreements within the administration began this summer, as a debate about whether an Israeli attack on the incomplete reactor was warranted then.

The officials did not say that the administration had ultimately opposed the Israeli strike, but that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates were particularly concerned about the ramifications of a pre-emptive strike in the absence of an urgent threat.

“There wasn’t a lot of debate about the evidence,” said one American official familiar with the intense discussions over the summer between Washington and the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel. “There was a lot of debate about how to respond to it.”

Even though it has signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Syria would not have been obligated to declare the existence of a reactor during the early phases of construction. It would have also had the legal right to complete construction of the reactor, as long as its purpose was to generate electricity.

In his only public comment on the raid, Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, acknowledged this month that Israeli jets dropped bombs on a building that he said was “related to the military” but which he insisted was “not used.”

A senior Israeli official, while declining to speak about the specific nature of the target, said the strike was intended to “re-establish the credibility of our deterrent power,” signaling that Israel meant to send a message to the Syrians that even the potential for a nuclear weapons program would not be permitted. But several American officials said the strike may also have been intended by Israel as a signal to Iran and its nuclear aspirations. Neither Iran nor any Arab government except for Syria has criticized the Israeli raid, suggesting that Israel is not the only country that would be disturbed by a nuclear Syria. North Korea did issue a protest.

The target of the Israeli raid and the American debate about the Syrian project were described by government officials and nongovernment experts interviewed in recent weeks in the United States and the Middle East. All insisted on anonymity because of rules that prohibit discussing classified information. The officials who described the target of the attack included some on each side of the debate about whether a partly constructed Syrian nuclear reactor should be seen as an urgent concern, as well as some who described themselves as neutral on the question.

The White House press secretary, Dana Perino, said Saturday that the administration would have no comment on the intelligence issues surrounding the Israeli strike. Israel has also refused to comment.

Nuclear reactors can be used for both peaceful and non-peaceful purposes. A reactor’s spent fuel can be reprocessed to extract plutonium, one of two paths to building a nuclear weapon. The other path — enriching uranium in centrifuges — is the method that Iran is accused of pursuing with an intent to build a weapon of its own.

Syria is known to have only one nuclear reactor, a small one built for research purposes. But in the past decade, Syria has several times sought unsuccessfully to buy one, first from Argentina, then from Russia. On those occasions, Israel reacted strongly but did not threaten military action. Earlier this year, Mr. Assad spoke publicly in general terms about Syria’s desire to develop nuclear power, but his government did not announce a plan to build a new reactor.

The Gulf Cooperation Council, a group of Persian Gulf states, has also called for an expansion of nuclear power in the Middle East for energy purposes, but many experts have interpreted that statement as a response to Iran’s nuclear program. They have warned that the region may be poised for a wave of proliferation. Israel is believed to be the only nuclear-armed nation in the region.

The partly constructed Syrian reactor was detected earlier this year by satellite photographs, according to American officials. They suggested that the facility had been brought to American attention by the Israelis, but would not discuss why American spy agencies seemed to have missed the early phases of construction.

North Korea has long provided assistance to Syria on a ballistic missile program, but any assistance toward the construction of the reactor would have been the first clear evidence of ties between the two countries on a nuclear program. North Korea has successfully used its five-megawatt reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear complex to reprocess nuclear fuel into bomb-grade material, a model that some American and Israeli officials believe Syria may have been trying to replicate.

The North conducted a partly successful test of a nuclear device a year ago, prompting renewed fears that the desperately poor country might seek to sell its nuclear technology. President Bush issued a specific warning to the North on Oct. 9, 2006, just hours after the test, noting that it was “leading proliferator of missile technology, including transfers to Iran and Syria.” He went on to warn that “the transfer of nuclear weapons or material by North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States, and we would hold North Korea fully accountable.”

While Bush administration officials have made clear in recent weeks that the target of the Israeli raid was linked to North Korea in some way, Mr. Bush has not repeated his warning since the attack. In fact, the administration has said very little about the country’s suspected role in the Syria case, apparently for fear of upending negotiations now under way in which North Korea has pledged to begin disabling its nuclear facilities.

While the partly constructed Syrian reactor appears to be based on North Korea’s design, the American and foreign officials would not say whether they believed the North Koreans sold or gave the plans to the Syrians, or whether the North’s own experts were there at the time of the attack. It is possible, some officials said, that the transfer of the technology occurred several years ago.

According to two senior administration officials, the subject was raised when the United States, North Korea and four other nations met in Beijing earlier this month.

Behind closed doors, however, Vice President Dick Cheney and other hawkish members of the administration have made the case that the same intelligence that prompted Israel to attack should lead the United States to reconsider delicate negotiations with North Korea over ending its nuclear program, as well as America’s diplomatic strategy toward Syria, which has been invited to join Middle East peace talks in Annapolis, Md., next month.

Mr. Cheney in particular, officials say, has also cited the indications that North Korea aided Syria to question the Bush administration’s agreement to supply the North with large amounts of fuel oil. During Mr. Bush’s first term, Mr. Cheney was among the advocates of a strategy to squeeze the North Korean government in hopes that it would collapse, and the administration cut off oil shipments set up under an agreement between North Korea and the Clinton administration, saying the North had cheated on that accord.

The new shipments, agreed to last February, are linked to North Korea’s carrying through on its pledge to disable its nuclear facilities by the end of the year. Nonetheless, Mr. Bush has approved going ahead with that agreement, even after he was aware of the Syrian program.

Nuclear experts say that North Korea’s main reactor, while small by international standards, is big enough to produce roughly one bomb’s worth of plutonium a year.

In an interview, Dr. Siegfried S. Hecker of Stanford University, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, said building a reactor based on North Korea’s design might take from three to six years.

UPDATE 3 (2007-9-23): Israelis seized nuclear material in Syrian raid.  According to the Times of London:

Israeli commandos seized nuclear material of North Korean origin during a daring raid on a secret military site in Syria before Israel bombed it this month, according to informed sources in Washington and Jerusalem.

The attack was launched with American approval on September 6 after Washington was shown evidence the material was nuclear related, the well-placed sources say.

They confirmed that samples taken from Syria for testing had been identified as North Korean. This raised fears that Syria might have joined North Korea and Iran in seeking to acquire nuclear weapons.

Israeli special forces had been gathering intelligence for several months in Syria, according to Israeli sources. They located the nuclear material at a compound near Dayr az-Zwar in the north.

Evidence that North Korean personnel were at the site is said to have been shared with President George W Bush over the summer. A senior American source said the administration sought proof of nuclear-related activities before giving the attack its blessing.

Diplomats in North Korea and China believe a number of North Koreans were killed in the strike, based on reports reaching Asian governments about conversations between Chinese and North Korean officials.

Syrian officials flew to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, last week, reinforcing the view that the two nations were coordinating their response.

UPDATE 2 (2007-9-18): DPRK calls Syria nuclear ties report “conspiracy”. According to Reuters:

North Korea said on Tuesday recent media reports that it may be providing help to Syria’s nuclear activities were groundless conspiracy fabricated by those who oppose the North’s improving ties with Washington.

The Washington Post reported last week that intelligence had led some U.S. officials to believe Syria was receiving help from North Korea on some sort of nuclear facility. The New York Times ran a similar report.

“This is sheer misinformation,” the North’s official KCNA news agency quoted an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying, referring to the reports.

The North made a pledge in October 2006 not to engage in nuclear proliferation and it still stood, the spokesman said.

North Korea last week hosted a team of nuclear officials and experts who made a rare road trip to Pyongyang and to the country’s main nuclear complex at Yongbyon north of the capital in what was seen as a gesture to improve ties with the United States.

North Korea has suspended operation of the Yongbyon complex under a February deal in return for 50,000 tones of heavy fuel oil from South Korea. It is set to receive additional 950,000 tones by taking further disarmament steps this year.

“The DPRK never makes an empty talk but always tells truth,” the Foreign Ministry spokesman said, using the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“The above-said story is nothing but a clumsy plot hatched by the dishonest forces who do not like to see any progress at the six-party talks and in the DPRK-U.S. relations.”

U.S. President George W. bush, who once lumped North Korea with Iran and pre-war Iraq as members of an “axis of evil,” has offered a peace treaty with the North if Pyongyang completes nuclear disarmament.

South Korea said on Monday a new round of the six-way talks would not be held on September 19 as widely expected.

South Korean officials have declined to confirm speculation that Pyongyang was upset by reports about its ties to Syrian nuclear activities or failure by China to begin shipping heavy fuel oil under the February pact.

Israel has refused to comment on what U.S. officials and diplomatic sources have described in news reports as an air raid inside Syria this month that may have targeted weapons headed for Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon or a suspected nuclear site.

Syria said it could retaliate for the September 6 violation of its territory and has denied reports that Damascus may have received North Korean nuclear aid.

UPDATE 1 (2007-9-16): The Times of London offers some more details of the operation:

IT was just after midnight when the 69th Squadron of Israeli F15Is crossed the Syrian coast-line. On the ground, Syria’s formidable air defences went dead. An audacious raid on a Syrian target 50 miles from the Iraqi border was under way.

At a rendezvous point on the ground, a Shaldag air force commando team was waiting to direct their laser beams at the target for the approaching jets. The team had arrived a day earlier, taking up position near a large underground depot. Soon the bunkers were in flames.

Ten days after the jets reached home, their mission was the focus of intense speculation this weekend amid claims that Israel believed it had destroyed a cache of nuclear materials from North Korea.

The Israeli government was not saying. “The security sources and IDF [Israeli Defence Forces] soldiers are demonstrating unusual courage,” said Ehud Olmert, the prime minister. “We naturally cannot always show the public our cards.”

The Syrians were also keeping mum. “I cannot reveal the details,” said Farouk al-Sharaa, the vice-president. “All I can say is the military and political echelon is looking into a series of responses as we speak. Results are forthcoming.” The official story that the target comprised weapons destined for Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi’ite group, appeared to be crumbling in the face of widespread scepticism.

Andrew Semmel, a senior US State Department official, said Syria might have obtained nuclear equipment from “secret suppliers”, and added that there were a “number of foreign technicians” in the country.

Asked if they could be North Korean, he replied: “There are North Korean people there. There’s no question about that.” He said a network run by AQ Khan, the disgraced creator of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, could be involved.

But why would nuclear material be in Syria? Known to have chemical weapons, was it seeking to bolster its arsenal with something even more deadly?

Alternatively, could it be hiding equipment for North Korea, enabling Kim Jong-il to pretend to be giving up his nuclear programme in exchange for economic aid? Or was the material bound for Iran, as some authorities in America suggest?

According to Israeli sources, preparations for the attack had been going on since late spring, when Meir Dagan, the head of Mossad, presented Olmert with evidence that Syria was seeking to buy a nuclear device from North Korea.

The Israeli spy chief apparently feared such a device could eventually be installed on North-Korean-made Scud-C missiles.

“This was supposed to be a devastating Syrian surprise for Israel,” said an Israeli source. “We’ve known for a long time that Syria has deadly chemical warheads on its Scuds, but Israel can’t live with a nuclear warhead.”

An expert on the Middle East, who has spoken to Israeli participants in the raid, told yesterday’s Washington Post that the timing of the raid on September 6 appeared to be linked to the arrival three days earlier of a ship carrying North Korean material labelled as cement but suspected of concealing nuclear equipment.

The target was identified as a northern Syrian facility that purported to be an agricultural research centre on the Euphrates river. Israel had been monitoring it for some time, concerned that it was being used to extract uranium from phosphates.

According to an Israeli air force source, the Israeli satellite Ofek 7, launched in June, was diverted from Iran to Syria. It sent out high-quality images of a northeastern area every 90 minutes, making it easy for air force specialists to spot the facility.

Early in the summer Ehud Barak, the defence minister, had given the order to double Israeli forces on its Golan Heights border with Syria in anticipation of possible retaliation by Damascus in the event of air strikes.

Sergei Kirpichenko, the Russian ambassador to Syria, warned President Bashar al-Assad last month that Israel was planning an attack, but suggested the target was the Golan Heights.

Israeli military intelligence sources claim Syrian special forces moved towards the Israeli outpost of Mount Hermon on the Golan Heights. Tension rose, but nobody knew why.

At this point, Barak feared events could spiral out of control. The decision was taken to reduce the number of Israeli troops on the Golan Heights and tell Damascus the tension was over. Syria relaxed its guard shortly before the Israeli Defence Forces struck.

Only three Israeli cabinet ministers are said to have been in the know – Olmert, Barak and Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister. America was also consulted. According to Israeli sources, American air force codes were given to the Israeli air force attaché in Washington to ensure Israel’s F15Is would not mistakenly attack their US counterparts.

Once the mission was under way, Israel imposed draconian military censorship and no news of the operation emerged until Syria complained that Israeli aircraft had violated its airspace. Syria claimed its air defences had engaged the planes, forcing them to drop fuel tanks to lighten their loads as they fled.

But intelligence sources suggested it was a highly successful Israeli raid on nuclear material supplied by North Korea.

Washington was rife with speculation last week about the precise nature of the operation. One source said the air strikes were a diversion for a daring Israeli commando raid, in which nuclear materials were intercepted en route to Iran and hauled to Israel. Others claimed they were destroyed in the attack.

There is no doubt, however, that North Korea is accused of nuclear cooperation with Syria, helped by AQ Khan’s network. John Bolton, who was undersecretary for arms control at the State Department, told the United Nations in 2004 the Pakistani nuclear scientist had “several other” customers besides Iran, Libya and North Korea.

Some of his evidence came from the CIA, which had reported to Congress that it viewed “Syrian nuclear intentions with growing concern”.

“I’ve been worried for some time about North Korea and Iran outsourcing their nuclear programmes,” Bolton said last week. Syria, he added, was a member of a “junior axis of evil”, with a well-established ambition to develop weapons of mass destruction.

The links between Syria and North Korea date back to the rule of Kim Il-sung and President Hafez al-Assad in the last century. In recent months, their sons have quietly ordered an increase in military and technical cooperation.

Foreign diplomats who follow North Korean affairs are taking note. There were reports of Syrian passengers on flights from Beijing to Pyongyang and sightings of Middle Eastern businessmen from sources who watch the trains from North Korea to China.

On August 14, Rim Kyong Man, the North Korean foreign trade minister, was in Syria to sign a protocol on “cooperation in trade and science and technology”. No details were released, but it caught Israel’s attention.

Syria possesses between 60 and 120 Scud-C missiles, which it has bought from North Korea over the past 15 years. Diplomats believe North Korean engineers have been working on extending their 300-mile range. It means they can be used in the deserts of northeastern Syria – the area of the Israeli strike.

The triangular relationship between North Korea, Syria and Iran continues to perplex intelligence analysts. Syria served as a conduit for the transport to Iran of an estimated £50m of missile components and technology sent by sea from North Korea. The same route may be in use for nuclear equipment.

But North Korea is at a sensitive stage of negotiations to end its nuclear programme in exchange for security guarantees and aid, leading some diplomats to cast doubt on the likelihood that Kim would cross America’s “red line” forbidding the proliferation of nuclear materials.

Christopher Hill, the State Department official representing America in the talks, said on Friday he could not confirm “intelligence-type things”, but the reports underscored the need “to make sure the North Koreans get out of the nuclear business”.

By its actions, Israel showed it is not interested in waiting for diplomacy to work where nuclear weapons are at stake.

As a bonus, the Israelis proved they could penetrate the Syrian air defence system, which is stronger than the one protecting Iranian nuclear sites.

This weekend President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran sent Ali Akbar Mehrabian, his nephew, to Syria to assess the damage. The new “axis of evil” may have lost one of its spokes.

ORIGINAL POST (2007-9-13): DPRK and Syria may be building nuclear facility. Glenn Kessler writes in the Washington Post:

North Korea may be cooperating with Syria on some sort of nuclear facility in Syria, according to new intelligence the United States has gathered over the past six months, sources said. The evidence, said to come primarily from Israel, includes dramatic satellite imagery that led some U.S. officials to believe that the facility could be used to produce material for nuclear weapons.

The new information, particularly images received in the past 30 days, has been restricted to a few senior officials under the instructions of national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, leaving many in the intelligence community unaware of it or uncertain of its significance, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Some cautioned that initial reports of suspicious activity are frequently reevaluated over time and were skeptical that North Korea and Syria, which have cooperated on missile technology, would have a joint venture in the nuclear arena.

A White House spokesman and the Israeli Embassy declined to comment yesterday after several days of inquiries. A Syrian Embassy spokesman said he could not immediately provide a statement.

The new intelligence comes at an awkward moment for the Bush administration, which since the beginning of the year has pursued an agreement with North Korea on ending its nuclear weapons programs. U.S. and North Korean officials held talks last week in Geneva on the steps needed to normalize relations, and this week a delegation of U.S., Russian and Chinese experts visited North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear facility to consider ways to disable it. The New York Times first reported on the intelligence linking North Korea and Syria yesterday.

At the Geneva talks, North Korea indicated a willingness to satisfy U.S. questions about an alleged uranium-enrichment program that started the crisis over its nuclear ambitions, the sources said. U.S. officials have said that North Korean officials acknowledged the program in 2002, but Pyongyang subsequently denied doing so. In the meantime, it restarted a plutonium facility at Yongbyon and harvested enough weapons-grade material for as many as 10 nuclear weapons. In October, it tested a nuclear device.

In talks in Beijing in March 2003, a North Korean official pulled aside his American counterpart and threatened to “transfer” nuclear material to other countries. President Bush has said that passing North Korean nuclear technology to other parties would cross the line.

Israel conducted a mysterious raid last week against targets in Syria. The Israeli government has refused to divulge any details, but a former Israeli official said he had been told that it was an attack against a facility capable of making unconventional weapons.

Others have speculated that Israel was testing Syria’s air defenses in preparation for a raid on Iran or that Israel was targeting weapons destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Bashar Jaafari, the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters that the idea of a Hezbollah connection was ridiculous.

Syria has signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty but has not agreed to an additional protocol that would allow for enhanced inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency., which offers information on weapons of mass destruction, said that “although Syria has long been cited as posing a nuclear proliferation risk, the country seems to have been too strapped for cash to get far.”

Syria has a Chinese-supplied “miniature” research reactor at Dayr al-Hajar, but has been unable to obtain larger reactors because of international pressure on potential sellers.

John R. Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a critic of the administration’s dealings with North Korea, said that given North Korea’s trade in missiles with Syria, it is “legitimate to ask questions about whether that cooperation extends on the nuclear side as well.”


Pyongyang’s newest market…

Friday, April 25th, 2008

As North Korean Economy Watch readers are aware, this site hosts the most authoritative mapping of North Korea on Google Earth (click here to download).  Google Earth recently updated its North Korea imagery requiring me to update a colossal amount of information.  This update (version 10) will be released by the end of May.

Growing influence of entrepreneurs
While updating information on Google Earth, one has a chance to compare how things have changed over the course of a few years.  One of the interesting changes in Pyongyang is the emergence of a new market about 5 blocks east of the Tower of the Juche Idea (pictured below).  It seems to have replaced an older market formerly located on the city’s outskirts at the end of the trolley line.  In the past, street markets (or “jangmadang”) like this have been held on the outskirts of the city.  This new, more convenient location (near peoples’ homes) is a testament to the growing importance of these markets, and their budding entrepreneurs, in meeting the needs of the North Korean people.  


Click on the image to view full size.