North Korea juggles South, Japan, Russia, and US

The DPRK’s recent efforts to reconstruct the Yongbyon 5MW nuclear reactor seem to have brought implementation of the “second” Agreed Framework to a halt, though it was already behind schedule.  This week the US sent Chris Hill to Pyongyang to try and rescue the process which is hung up on verification protocol.   The North claims to have sufficiently declared their nuclear capabilities and believe they should be removed from the US list of state sponsors of terror.  The US does not believe this condition has been met and seeks to establish a protocol to verify if the North’s declaration is accurate.

Japan is also set to extend sanctions (due to expire) on the DPRK.  According to Bloomberg:

Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party decided to extend sanctions against North Korea for six months after their Oct. 13 expiration date, Jiji Press reported.

LDP lawmakers agreed to extend the sanctions because North Korea took steps to reactivate its nuclear program and made little progress in an investigation into Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents, Jiji reported.

Prime Minister Taro Aso’s Cabinet is likely to endorse the extension by Oct. 10., the Japanese wire service said.

The sanctions include a ban on North Korean imports and the entry of North Korean ships into Japanese ports. The extension will be the fourth since sanctions began after North Korea’s October 2006 nuclear test, Jiji said.

Just as the DPRKs hopes of restoring/establishing relations with Japan and the US start to dim, however, they have reached out to South Korea, with whom political relations had recently gone sour due to the South’s policy change from unsupervised aid provision under the “sunshine policy” to a quid-pro-quo relationship under a “policy of mutual benefits and common prosperity“.  Additionally, the fatal shooting of a South Korean tourist in Kumgangsan led to a deterioration in cooperation between the two governments and suspension of the inter-Korean project (a cash cow for the North).

How much was the Sunshine Policy worth to the North?  South Korean GNP lawmaker Jin Yeong, who analzed data submitted by the Unification Ministry and the Export-Import Bank of Korea, claims that the Kim and Roh administrations oversaw the transfer of 8.38 trillion South Korean Won in aid and loans since 1998.

Taking office in February 2003 after the second North Korean nuclear crisis emerged in September 2002, Roh doled out 5.68 trillion won to Pyongyang over his five-year term, double that of his predecessor Kim (2.70 trillion won).

Kim and Roh gave to North Korea 2.4 trillion won for building light-water reactors and in food aid; 2.5 trillion won to pin the price of rice aid to that of the global market; 2.8 trillion won for other aid including fertilizer; and 696 billion won in aid from advocacy groups and provincial governments.

In 2003, South Korean aid to the North reached a high of 1.56 trillion won. Then after North Korean leader Kim Jong Il declared that his country had gone nuclear in 2005, the Roh administration sent 1.48 trillion won to the North.

Jin said, “South Korea gave a loan with rice first in 2000. Payments on the loan are deferred for 10 years. Thus, we are to receive the first repayment installment in 2010. But most of the 2.4 trillion won in loans seem irrecoverable.”

PricewaterhouseCoopers Korea audited the fiscal 2007 accounts of Seoul`s inter-Korean cooperation funds, saying, “Considering the characteristics of the North Korean government, grave uncertainty exists over the possibility of redeeming the loans given to the regime. The ultimate outcome depends heavily on the conditions around the Korean Peninsula.”

Since President Lee Myung-bak took office this year, exchanges between the two Koreas have been rare. Still, aid to the light-water reactor and the Gaesong industrial complex projects and civilian donations have continued, amounting to a combined 211.3 billion won. (Donga Ilbo)

It appears the Russians are doing their part to bring the North and South together through a project they can all agree on—building a natural gas pipeline from Russia to South Korea via the DPRK:

South Korea plans to import $90 billion of natural gas from Russia via North Korea, with which it shares one of the world’s most heavily fortified borders, to reduce its reliance on more expensive cargoes arriving by sea.

State-run Korea Gas Corp. signed a preliminary agreement with OAO Gazprom, Russia’s largest energy company, to import 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas over 30 years starting in 2015, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy said in a statement. The accord was signed in Moscow during President Lee Myung Bak’s three-day visit that began yesterday.

Gazprom Chief Executive Officer Alexei Miller said after talks today between Lee and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that the exact delivery route hasn’t been determined and that shipments could begin as early as 2015.

“Russia suggested a pipeline via North Korea, which is expected to be more economical than other possible routes,” the minister said in a news briefing. “Russia will contact the North to discuss this.”

“Transporting gas through North Korea could be risky for South Korea,” said Kim Jin Woo, a senior research analyst at Korea Energy Economics Institute. “But the project will ease tensions on the Korean peninsula if Russia successfully persuades North Korea” to accept the plan.

North Korea could earn $100 million a year from the gas- pipeline project, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy said.

“Russia will supply the fuel in the form of LNG or compressed natural gas if negotiations with North Korea do not work out,” according to the ministry’s statement. South Korea and Russia will sign a final agreement in 2010 when a study on the route is completed.

South Korea is turning to Russia, holder of the world’s biggest proven gas reserves, as it faces intensifying competition for energy resources from China and Japan. Asia’s fourth-largest economy depends on gas for 16 percent of its power generation.

Under the agreement, a pipeline to South Korea will be laid via North Korea from gas fields on Sakhalin Island in Russia’s Far East. The pipeline would initially carry 10 billion cubic meters of gas a year, or about 20 percent of South Korea’s annual consumption. The cost of the gas link’s construction is estimated at $3 billion, the ministry said.

Read the full articles here:
South Korea Seeks $90 Billion of Russian Natural Gas
Bloomberg
Shinhye Kang
9/29/2008

Liberal Gov`ts Gave W8.38 Bln to North Korea`
Donga Ilbo
9/30/2008

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An affiliate of 38 North