Archive for September, 2006

Foreign Economic Strategy: Aid

Sunday, September 17th, 2006

Korea Times
Andrei Lankov

Nicholas Eberstadt once described the North Korean foreign economic strategy as a chain of “aid-maximizing stratagems.” Indeed, this is a good description.

For many decades, the international environment has made North Korea indispensable for some large sponsors, and Pyongyang diplomats have been very good at playing the aid-maximizing game and extracting money from those sponsors.

It is interesting that none of those great sponsors was inspired by the “aid idealism” that is so powerful in the West nowadays. Western left-leaning (and not necessarily left-leaning) intellectuals have for decades believed that the prosperous West has a duty to provide the less fortunate parts of the globe with aid. This belief became a part of Western psyche since the 1960s, but it is not shared by the countries of East Asia or by the former Communist world.

Indeed, most aid to the North was motivated by cold self-interest, not by some ideological construct. However, the North Korean diplomats could always steer this self-interest in right direction.

Actually, until the Korean War the USSR did not, in a strict sense, provide aid to the North. In the late 1940s, Stalin controlled the satellites (and I do not think that this is too strong an expression) via more direct channels, and even deliberately tried to bend the conditions of trade to Soviet favor.

In the case of North Korea, the USSR provided technical assistance, largely for military purposes. This required adequate payment, which had to be made in products that could be sold on the international market.

In those days Pyongyang paid in steel, iron, and monazite concentrate, the latter a substance that was then seen (mistakenly, as it turned out eventually) as potential raw material for producing nuclear weapons.

However, from 1953 the situation changed. The post-Stalin leaders relaxed their control over the Communist camp, and began to put more emphasis on economic dependency as an important additional tool to keep their involuntary allies from defecting.

North Korea was seen as a major strategic ally: it formed a protective buffer between the Soviet Far East and U.S. bases in the South. It had to be kept stable and, ideally, prosperous, so the late 1950s was the time of large-scale Soviet aid. Chinese aid was smaller, but the Chinese troops, stationed in the country until 1958, were widely used as an unpaid labor force on various construction projects.

In the late 1960s, Soviet aid dwindled, but the feud between China and the USSR provided Pyongyang with leverage over the two Communist great powers.

In essence, this was a policy of blackmail: if one of two quarrelling Communist giants refused to provide sufficient assistance or peculiar technology, Pyongyang switched to the other one. Both Moscow and Beijing wanted to have Pyongyang on their own side, but having it neutral was the second best option.

Thus, the great principle of the North Korean aid-maximizing approach was discovered: money was paid not for some action, but rather for nonaction.

With the Sino-Soviet rivalry, aid was extracted as a fee for not joining the other side. Ha[d] I been a fancy “political science” theoretician, I would probably call such an approach a “negative concession strategy.”

Of course, both China and the USSR also wanted North Korea to remain in good shape to contain the U.S. influence, even if this consideration was secondary to the politics of the Sino-Soviet rivalry.

The scale of the aid will never be known for sure, since a large part of it was provided indirectly: through preferential pricing or through a willingness to accept substandard North Korean merchandise in lieu of currency payment.

However, the depth of the crisis that struck North Korea after the collapse of the USSR once again confirmed how important the aid was for keeping the North Korean economy afloat.

The collapse of the USSR and the reforms in China around 1990 seemingly made such blackmail impossible. But soon the North discovered new rivalries to exploit.

First, there was a nuclear program, the same old good type of “negative concession” Pyongyang expected to be paid for not developing its nuclear weapons. The Geneva framework of 1994 was a masterpiece of blackmail diplomacy.

Then, there was (and is) a veiled but clearly present rivalry between China and the U.S. Beijing does not want a nuclear North Korea, but it is not happy about a unified country which might become _ or rather remain _ pro-American. It also needs a Communist regime or two hanging around and thus helping the current government to survive. This means that China is willing to keep the North in operation by providing it with aid, especially with food aid.

Finally, there are South Korean phobias to exploit. Seoul is increasingly uneasy about Chinese presence in the North.

There are other phobias as well. The South is afraid of a democratic revolution in the North, politely known as an “implosion.”

German-style unification is seen as a disaster since it will lead to a dramatic decline in the living standards of South Koreans.

This is a unique situation with few parallels in world history: a government feeds its enemy precisely to avoid its own swift victory!

However, it seems that the expectations of Seoul politicians are based on incorrect assumptions.


China eyes Mt. Pektu III

Friday, September 15th, 2006

From the Korea Times:
China’s Ambition Over Mt. Paektu Angers Koreans
Lee Jin-woo

A single torch lit at the top of Mount Paektu – the Korean Peninsula’s highest mountain, erected near the North Korean-Chinese border – angered South Koreans earlier this month.

The torch was lit for the sixth Winter Asian Games to be held in Changchun, China from Jan. 28 to Feb. 4 next year. The host city’s mayor said the mountain was chosen as the torch flaming site on Sept. 6 because three rivers _ Tuman, Amrok and Songhua _ originate there. Tuman and Amrok rivers are also known as Tumen and Yalu in Chinese.

Not many South Koreans, however, see the move merely as part of the athletic event. Many see it as the Chinese government’s sly move to promote the mountain, which Koreans regard as a sacred place, as its very own.

Under an agreement struck in 1962, China and North Korea, two sovereign states and U.N. members, agreed to share the mountain. The North controls 54.5 percent of the mountain, and China occupies the remaining 45.5 percent.

On Sept. 5, another news report on China’s move to hold the 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Mount Paektu surprised South Koreans.

Based on a press conference by a Chinese official from Jilin Province in northeastern China, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that China unveiled its intention to hold the international winter sports festival at Mount Paektu or Changbai-shan as it is known by the Chinese.

The report enraged many South Koreans, who have already been upset by China’s moves to put the 2,744-meter mountain on the UNESCO’s “World Geopark” list and similar efforts by Beijing to register it with the U.N. agency as a “World Heritage” site.

Dubbed the “Mount Paektu project,” China’s actions are believed by many South Koreans to be part of the “Northeast Project,” a Chinese academic project to reexamine ancient history in the region. Many Koreans view the project as an attempt to distort ancient Korean history in the northeastern territory of what is now China, including the Koguryo Kingdom (37 B.C.-A.D. 668) and the Palhae Kingdom (698-926).

Unlike the angry South Korean public and news media, the government has remained calm over China’s recent provocations.

“We acknowledge that a provincial government official in China did express a tentative future plan for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, but the central Chinese administration has not revealed any plan,” an official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade told The Korea Times on condition of anonymity.

“There have been suspicions over the construction of a new international airport near the mountain, but it’s hard to link the project to the winter sports event,” he added.

Once the Fusong airport, located just a 10-minute drive from Mount Paektu, is completed by August 2008, some 540,000 passengers are expected to use it, reports said.

Another ranking government official also said most Chinese officials dismissed such allegations, saying, “Preparing for the 2008 Summer Olympics in China has made us too busy to push ahead with another massive project.”

On Sept. 8, Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon of the main opposition Grand National Party disclosed an internal document produced by South Korea’s Cultural Heritage Administration, which suggested that the Mount Paektu project is closely related to China’s plan to prepare for territorial disputes, which are expected after the possible unification of the Korean Peninsula.

The administration later said the document cannot be considered the government’s official stance over the dispute, but it has been collecting information on the matter.

Many South Korean academic and civic groups, as well as the press, have urged the government to join hands with the North to address the dispute.

The communist nation, however, has remained quiet.

Unlike in 2004, when China’s treatment of Korean history angered the two Koreas, the North has not issued a single statement denouncing its traditional ally.

The 2004 dispute seems to have subsided after Beijing promised to resolve the row through academic discussions and not allow it to develop into a political dispute.

Ryoo Kihl-jae, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said North Korea seems to have understood China’s desperate situation to push ahead with the “Northeast Project” to control various ethnic groups and suppress their increasing calls for independence.

“The Chinese government is having a hard time handling a number of minority ethnic groups,” Ryoo said. “Unless China dispatches a large number of its military units to Mount Paektu, North Korea is not likely to find fault with the recent moves.”

The professor was also skeptical about the possibility that North Korea would cooperate with the South to block any further attempts by Beijing to distort history.

“It’s hard to expect North Korea to cooperate with the South to confront China,” he said. “I believe the ongoing historical disputes with China should be resolved by scholars and civic groups, not by government-level talks.”


Distributing aid not easy

Friday, September 15th, 2006

From the Daily NK:
Choi Jeon Ho

In order to ascertain availability of North Korean people to humanitarian aids, I met a 50-year old male North Korean resident in Shenyang City of Liaoning, China, early September.

The person, called Mr. Lee, was from Kowon, South Hamkyong Province, and had been visiting China since mid-August. He testified an astonishing story.

According to Mr. Lee, many North Korean people were imprisoned or executed for ‘embezzlement of national property.’ Also, international aids, Lee said, rather worsened discrimination of common people without power or wealth.

Following is the full text of the interview.

-Are North Korean residents aware of South Korean and the international society’s humanitarian aid to NK?

“Of course they are. But it doesn’t matter. People can’t ask the state to distribute the humanitarian aids equally to us. If we do so, we’ll be punished.”

– What do you mean ‘be punished’?

“In every provinces and counties, there are public officials who have been imprisoned. Let’s say some food from international aid agency arrive at Wonsan Harbor. Then some portion is directly headed to the army, some other goes to national construction projects. The rest are allocated to the residents including Giupsos (state owned enterprise).

Each administrative district (province, city, county) is ordered to take the assigned amount of food by itself. And corruption occurs at that point. We don’t have enough gasoline and diesel oil for transportation. Ordinary Giupsos must procure their own transportation means and gasoline to carry food from harbor.

The problem is how to ‘procure.’ Such powerful party organs like armies, foreign-currency earning divisions are provided with enough gasoline and diesel. And they sell the oil to the people with ridiculously high price.

Currently in mountainous area, 1 kg of rice costs 750 to 800 won ($0.25 to $0.27), and a liter of gasoline costs almost same. Giupsos collect money from workers to buy gasoline for carrying the allocated food from port to the company office.

Distribution of food in each district is local food office’s jurisdiction. Food offices store the food that each local Giupso brought in and distribute it to the residents via ration center. Those workers who paid for gasoline receive food.

Real problem occurs then. Local ration centers are troubled by party officials, National Security agents and Social Safety agents (police). They claim their share. If claims are neglected, there will be more harm from them in the future. Workers request food in exchange for what they paid before, and party officials ask food in exchange for their power and authority.

Bureaucrats in ration center are facing dilemma between workers and party officials. I am sure that more than 70 to 80 percent of the imprisoned ration office bureaucrats failed to satisfy both sides and are falsely accused of fraud.”

-I heard that there are some people die because of the aid. How is that so?

“Some people are executed for misappropriation of the aids. Others who are imprisoned for fraud might die in prison. There are such cases in every province, city and county.”

-Then, do only the workers who paid money before receive food?

“Yes. Those without money are not rationed. Although the international society provides humanitarian aids for free, once the aids come into North Korea, people must buy them. No money, no food.”

– Do people live with the food they receive?

“No. Whether received enough food or rationed with the amount that barely covers their livelihood, people sell back some of the food to a Jangmadang (a kind of black-market) in order to earn money for gasoline or other basic supplies.”

– In other words, international humanitarian aids are benefiting only the party officials and other people of power.

“Exactly. In (North) Korea, only power holders are becoming rich. They obtain aided goods with cheap price and sell them back to the Jangmadang. Ordinary people buy food from the Jangmadang, afterward.”

– How much portion of the aid is stolen and sold by government officials?

“I estimate about half of the aid is appropriated by the army, 30 percent by officials and the rest is sold in the Jangmadang.”

– It is known that international inspectors from the World Food Program and other organizations are observing food distribution in NK.

“As I know of, there are 10 of them, but they are inadequate. They just watch the residents receiving the food at ration centers. They by no means could figure out whether people pay price or receive food for free. And we cannot tell them what is actually going on.”

– Then how can we distribute food to those who are actually starving?

“First of all, the international society must comprehend the reality. Otherwise, no humanitarian aid might be better. If there is no aid, then at least there would be no imprisonment or execution because of fraud. Obviously, we need much more food. But if it goes on in this way, people without money will continue to suffer.”


ROK vows economic cooperation with DPRK despite prob. nuclear test

Thursday, September 14th, 2006

From Yonhap:

South Korea’s vice unification minister on Thursday said his country would continue its economic cooperation with North Korea, adding that increased cooperation between the divided Koreas is the key to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

“Economic cooperation between the North and the South is playing a key role in various ways to manage the situation on the Korean Peninsula stably,” Vice Unification Minister Shin Un-sang said.

The remarks came as part of a congratulatory speech at the opening of a symposium here on inter-Korean economic cooperation, co-hosted by the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice and the National Unification Advisory Council.

Shin said inter-Korean economic cooperation has significantly reduced tension on the Korean Peninsula by replacing, or removing, the North’s heavy artillery unit in the border town of Kaesong with a joint industrial complex for South Korean firms.

He also claimed the North would now have to think twice before performing any acts that could heighten or cause tension on the Korean Peninsula as increased economic cooperation gives it a greater interest in pursuing peace and stability.

“Inter-Korean economic cooperation is playing a role in preventing additional tension (on the Korean Peninsula). Various forms of economic cooperation between the two, including the Kaesong industrial complex, are helping the North and South Korea to move toward (promoting their) mutual interests,” Shin said.

Relations between the Koreas improved significantly after their leaders met in an historic summit in Pyongyang in 2000. The amount of inter-Korean trade increased to over US$1 billion last year from $290 million in 1995, according to Kim Chun-sig, director of the ministry’s inter-Korean economic cooperation bureau, who also joined Thursday’s symposium.

The government believes that economic cooperation with the North also helps open the reclusive state to the outside world by offering chances for its people to meet with South Korean officials and businesspeole, as well as being an opportunity to witness the South’s advanced economy.


China not to revise defence treaty with North Korea

Thursday, September 14th, 2006


China today scotched media reports that the ruling Communist Party may revise the 1961 defence treaty with North Korea, which is engaged in a diplomatic stand-off with the United States on the nuclear issue.

“We don’t plan to amend the treaty,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters when asked to comment on media reports.

The ruling Communist Party of China, which will hold its annual meeting in October may discuss the possibility of revising the treaty with North Korea that commits Beijing to come to the aid of Pyongyang should it come under attack from foreign forces, a Hong Kong rights group had claimed yesterday.

The Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said in a statement that the revision to the mutual friendship and cooperation treaty will be discussed in a bid to prevent China from becoming involved in a possible war on the Korean Peninsula.

China is North Korea’s traditional ally and main aid provider to the reclusive nation.

Beijing is apparently unhappy with Pyongyang’s recent missile tests and refusal to return to the six-party talks on its nuclear programmes.


Eat more rabbits

Wednesday, September 13th, 2006

From Asociated Press:

North Korea encouraging citizens to eat rabbits

North Korea is encouraging its people to breed rabbits for food, the impoverished regime’s official media reported Wednesday.

“Rabbit-breeding farms have been built to rapidly increase parent rabbits which have a high fertility rate, grow fast and produce much meat with less feed,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported.

The report said rabbits were “the most economically profitable domestic animals” due to the mountainous country’s limited arable land.

“Rabbits are being raised by collective and widespread methods at factories, enterprises, cooperative farms and schools, to say nothing of stock-breeding farms,” KCNA said.


WFP appeals for urgent food aid for N. Korea

Tuesday, September 12th, 2006

From Yonhap:

The U.N. food agency said Tuesday that North Korean children may have to spend this year’s Christmas without food unless the country gets additional donations from abroad within the coming weeks.

John M. Powell, Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Program (WFP), stressed that the WFP’s stockpiles for North Korea will dry up within the next two months without any fresh pledges.

“We expect to be running out of commodities within the next two months,” he told a press conference in Seoul.

He said it takes at least three or four months to translate a pledge into food that can be consumed by a hungry child.

“Unless we get a pledge in the next month or so, no one will eat after Christmas,” he said.

Powell said that his agency is struggling to accomplish its two-year project to provide food aid to the North due to a lack of donations.

He said his agency received only eight percent of the US$102 million required for its current two-year feeding program, which aims to feed 1.9 million people.

Powell said he met with South Korean officials earlier in the day and discussed ways of providing more aid to the North.

But he did not clarify whether he asked for South Korea’s contribution nor say how much, if any, was requested.

Seoul suspended its regular food and fertilizer aid to its communist neighbor after Pyongyang test-launched seven missiles in July.

It recently provided a one-time shipment of aid to the North, which suffered huge damage from summer floods.

North Korea has been depending on outside handouts to feed many of its 23 million population, and the WFP said it has been feeding some 6 million people there, mostly women, children, the sick and the elderly.

From the Korea Times:

The U.N. food agency said Tuesday that North Korean children may have to spend this year’s Christmas without food unless the country gets additional donations from abroad within the coming weeks.
John M. Powell, deputy executive director of the World Food Program (WFP), stressed that its stockpiles for North Korea will dry up within the next two months without any fresh pledges.

“We expect to be running out of commodities within the next two months,’’ he told a press conference in Seoul.

He said it takes at least three or four months to translate a pledge into food that can be consumed by a hungry child.

“Unless we get a pledge in the next month or so, no one will eat after Christmas,’’ he said.

Powell said that his agency is struggling to accomplish its two-year project to provide food aid to the North due to a lack of donations.

He said his agency received only eight percent of the $102 million required for its current two-year feeding program, which aims to feed 1.9 million people.

Powell said he met with South Korean officials earlier in the day and discussed ways of providing more aid to the North.

But he did not clarify whether he asked for a South Korean contribution nor did he say how much, if any, was requested.

Seoul suspended its regular food and fertilizer aid to its communist neighbor after Pyongyang test-launched seven missiles in July.

It recently provided a one-time shipment of aid to the North, which suffered huge damage from summer floods.

North Korea has been depending on outside handouts to feed many of its 23 million population, and the WFP said it has been feeding some 6 million people there, mostly women, children, the sick and the elderly.


N. Korea inks cooperation pact with Mongolia

Tuesday, September 12th, 2006

From Yonhap:

North Korea on Tuesday signed an agreement on diplomatic cooperation with Mongolia, the North’s state-controlled media said.

The agreement was signed by Kim Yong-il, North Korea’s vice foreign minister, and Mongolian Ambassador to Pyongyang Janchivdorjyn Lomvo, reported the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), monitored here.

The news agency, however, failed to provide details on the contents of the agreement.

North Korea and Mongolia established diplomatic relations in 1948. Mongolia closed its embassy in Pyongyang in August 1999 before reopening it five years later.

The KCNA also reported North Korean parliamentary representatives held a meeting with an Indonesian parliamentary delegation to discuss ways of promoting bilateral cooperation.

“Both sides exchanged views on issues of mutual concern and ways of furthering the relations between the parliaments of the two countries amid growing bilateral cooperation in various fields,” the news agency said.

The Indonesian delegation arrived in Pyongyang on Monday.


‘Hallyu’ and Political Change

Sunday, September 10th, 2006

From the Korea Times:
Andrei Lankov

Recently I was talking to a Westerner who has been working in Pyongyang for quite a long time. Describing the recent changes, he said: “Once upon a time, one had to come back from an overseas trip with a truckload of cigarettes. Now my North Korean colleagues want me to bring movies, especially tapes of South Korean TV dramas.’’

Indeed, North Korea is in the middle of a video revolution which is likely to have a deep impact on its future.

What killed Soviet-style socialism? In the final analysis, it was its innate economic inefficiency. The state is a bad entrepreneur, and the entire history of the 20th century testifies to this. The capitalist West outproduced and outperformed the communist East, whose countries were lagging behind in many regards, including living standards.

Thus, the communist governments had to enforce the strict control of information flows from overseas. There were manifold reasons to do so, but largely this was done exactly because the rulers did not want commoners to learn how vastly more prosperous were people of similar social standing in the supposedly “exploited’’ West.

But people learned about it eventually, and once it happened, the fate of state socialism was sealed.

In the USSR and other countries of once communist Eastern Europe, uncensored information was largely provided by a short-wave radio broadcast. The BBC, the Voice of America and Freedom Radio were especially popular. The USSR was a more liberal place than North Korea, so Soviet citizens could easily buy radio sets in shops.

As far as I know, Moscow never considered a ban on short-wave radio sets in peacetime-perhaps, because in a vast country such a measure would prevent a large part of population hearing the news. The government occasionally resorted to jamming, but it was not always efficient as it could only work around major cities.

In North Korea, where the radio sets are sold with pre-fixed tuning, their role is less prominent even if some North Koreans do listen to foreign broadcasts.

However, North Koreans found another way to access foreign media. If the Soviet Union was brought down by the short-wave radio, in North Korea the corresponding role is likely to be played by videotape.

As with many other great social changes, this one began with a minor technological revolution. DVD players have been around for quite a while, but around 2001 their prices went down dramatically. Northeast China was no exception. Local Chinese households began to purchase DVD players, and this made their old VCRs obsolete. The Chinese market was instantly flooded with very cheap used VCRs that could be had for $10 or $20.

Many of these machines were bought by smugglers who transported the goods across the porous border between North Korea and China. They were re-sold at a huge premium, but still cost but some $30 to $40.

This made VCRs affordable to a large number of North Korean households. In the 1990s, they would have to pay some $200 for a VCR-a prohibitive sum with the average monthly salary hovering around $5. A $35 VCR is within reach of many (perhaps, most) North Korean households, even if they have to save a lot to afford one.

Against the dull background of the official arts, the VCRs were a vehicle for accessing good entertainment. Needless to say, people do not buy these expensive machines to watch the “Star of Korea,’’ a lengthy biopic about the youth of the Great Leader! Since the only major producer of Korean language shows is South Korea, it is only natural that most programs come from Seoul via China. The South Korean soaps are a major hit.

In a sense, the much-talked “Hallyu’’ or “Korean Wave,’’ a craze for all things Korean across East Asia, is a part of North Korean life as well. Young North Koreans enthusiastically imitate the fashions and parrot the idioms they see in South Korean movies. And this does not bode well for the regime’s future.

Of course, the moviemakers did not deliberately pursue any political goals, and their plots involve the usual melodramatic stories of love, family relations and escapist adventure. They are not even produced with a North Korean audience in mind. But the movies reflect the life of South Korea, and this image is vastly different from what the official North Korean media say.

I do not think that the North Koreans take what they see in the movies at face value. They know that their own movies grossly exaggerate the living standards in their county, so they expect moviemakers from other countries, including South Korea, to do the same.

Thus, they hardly believe that in the South everybody can eat meat daily or that every Seoul household has a car. Such an improbable affluence is beyond their wildest dreams.

But there are things that cannot be faked _ like, say, the Seoul cityscape dotted with high-rise buildings and impressive bridges. It is gradually dawning on the North Koreans that the South is not exactly the land of hunger and destitution depicted in their propaganda.

It became cool to look Southern and behave like Southerners do. This is yet another sign of coming change, and I do not think that these changes are likely to be as smooth as many people in Seoul would like them to be.


U.S. puts the brakes on N.K. missile sales

Sunday, September 10th, 2006

From the Korea Herald:

The United States has had some success in limiting North Korea’s export of missiles by persuading other countries not to buy them, a senior administration official says.

Washington has long sought to stop such sales and stepped up its initiative after Pyongyang tested a string of missiles in July, including a long-range missile.

“As a direct result of our policies, we have cut off North Korea from several of its customers for ballistic missiles,” Robert Joseph, the Bush administration’s top nonproliferation official, told Reuters.

“We have made it more difficult for the North to ship missiles and have made it more likely that these shipments will be exposed. The risk of exposure further turns off customers,” he said in a recent interview.

He said Yemen committed not to buy more North Korean missiles after taking delivery of a shipment of 15 Scuds in 2002 and Libya promised to forgo North Korean missiles as part of a 2003 agreement in which it abandoned its weapons of mass destruction and missile programs.

Some U.S. officials say Pakistan and Egypt also are no longer buying from Pyongyang, leaving Iran and Syria as the major missile customers.

Some other U.S. officials and experts are skeptical of the effectiveness of the Bush administration policy.

Jonathan Pollack, chair of the Asia-Pacific Studies Group at the U.S. Naval War College in Rhode Island, welcomed the close scrutiny the U.S.-led program had brought on North Korea’s activities but said the results were difficult to measure and it was probably too soon to draw firm conclusions.

The U.S. strategy includes a crackdown on banks that aid the North’s illicit activities and the “proliferation security initiative” in which some 88 member nations share intelligence and practice interdicting weapons shipments.

In addition, potential buyer nations now may find their U.S. aid curtailed if they buy weapons from North Korea. Pakistan, Iraq and Egypt are major recipients of U.S. assistance.

After Pyongyang tested seven missiles in July, the United Nations called on countries to avoid supporting the missile program. Missile sales earn the impoverished state hundreds of millions of dollars in hard currency.

One long-range missile crashed soon after launch during the July tests, but the other medium range missiles hit their target areas, U.S. officials and experts said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said North Korea – which claims itself to be a nuclear weapons power – is more dangerous as a proliferator than as a military threat to neighbor South Korea.

Pyongyang has been working on missile production for three decades and is the leading supplier of ballistic missiles to the developing world, experts say.

The chief exports are variations of Soviet-origin Scud missiles, regarded as fairly reliable and accurate but based on technology advanced military powers would consider obsolete.

North Korea’s oldest and most loyal customer has been Iran, which helped finance Scud development, according to various U.S. studies. The connection dates to the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s when Pyongyang tested and shipped missiles to Tehran.

North Korea, as well as China, provided ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and their production facilities to Iran, Iraq, Syria and Egypt, U.S. government reports say. Libya and Pakistan have also been missile customers.

Arms connections between North Korea and Iran are very strong, with the former regime being the main supplier of ballistic missile technologies to Tehran, a senior U.S. nonproliferation official said Wednesday.

Undersecretary of State Robert Joseph, in charge of arms control and international security, was cautious about going into intelligence.

“But I can say that the connections between North Korea and Iran are very strong,” he said at a news conference with the foreign press.

“And North Korea has been, I think, the principal supplier to Iran of ballistic missile technologies,” he said.

Suspicions about exchanges of personnel, technology and equipment between Pyongyang and Tehran on missile development date back decades. Joseph noted that a number of revelations about such ties have already been made public.