Archive for the ‘Ministry of foreign Affairs’ Category

Paek the Opaque: Another Old North Korean Bites the Dust

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

Aidan Foster-Carter
Nautilus Institute

Everyone is famous for 15 minutes, at least according to the late American pop artist and cultural icon Andy Warhol.

For Paek Nam Sun, that was literally true. North Korea’s foreign minister since 1998, who has just died, hit the headlines just once in all his 77 years – and then only on the inside pages, mainly of the regional press in Asia.

Coffee with evil in Brunei

That was in August 2002, when for a quarter of an hour Paek sipped coffee with his rather better known US opposite number at the time, Colin Powell. The place was Brunei; the occasion, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).

Senior American and North Korean leaders rarely meet at the best of times, which this was not. Earlier that year, President George W Bush had famously labeled Kim Jong Il’s regime, along with Iran and Iraq, as part of an “axis of evil”. So for his Secretary of State to dally thus with the enemy, even briefly, raised eyebrows in some quarters.

We know now, as suspected at the time, that Powell was keen to engage North Korea. But vice-president Dick Cheney was dead against, and Cheney had Bush’s ear.

Any hopes of renewed dialogue were dashed later in 2002. Accused by Washington of a second, covert nuclear programme, North Korea restarted its first one precipitating a crisis that continues, climaxing (so far) in its testing a nuclear device on October 9.

Paek low in the pecking order

With the nuclear crisis ongoing, we might have expected to see more of Paek Nam Sun. But they do things differently in North Korea.

A senior diplomat (and sometime ambassador to Poland) who had also been active in early contacts with South Korea since the 1970s, as foreign minister the genial Paek was a largely ceremonial figure: trundled out for occasions like the ARF. As such he was in Kuala Lumpur last July, where he reportedly also had medical treatment.

Serious negotiations, on the other hand, were and are the province of Paek’s nominal deputies: two above all. The better known is deputy foreign minister Kim Kye Gwan, who heads Pyongyang’s delegation to the on-off six party nuclear talks. A skilled and confident negotiator, Kim even gave an unscripted if brief press conference after the latest round of talks, held in Beijing last month, ended inconclusively.

But the real heavy hitter is first vice foreign minister Kang Sok Ju. He it was who negotiated the October 1994 US-DPRK Agreed Framework (AF); defusing an earlier North Korean nuclear crisis (plus ca change), back in the Bill Clinton era, which in mid-1994 had come perilously close to unleashing a second Korean War. If the six-party process ever gets anywhere, which is doubtful, Kang will be wheeled on again. For now, the more junior Kim Kye Gwan does the honours.

Puzzling pseudonymy

So Paek Nam Sun’s passing will hardly send a tremor through North Korea’s foreign policy. But it does shed light on the curious way they order matters in Pyongyang.

For one thing, what was his real name? The man who first showed up in the 1970s for Red Cross talks with South Korea was known as Paek Nam Jun. But after he became foreign minister, the J mysteriously morphed into an S.

Peculiar, but not unique. Ri Jong Hyok, Pyongyang’s current point man for ties with Seoul, was Ri Dong Hyok in the 1980s when he headed North Korea’s quasi-embassy in Paris. There are several other such cases. It’s hardly a disguise, so what gives?

(En passant, the French connection is intriguing. Nominally the last EU state to resist full recognition of the DPRK, in practice France has hosted a North Korean legation since the 1970s. And both Kang Sok Ju and Kim Kye Gwan majored in French: the traditional language of international diplomacy.)

Dying off

Another oddity: North Korean elites hardly ever retire. Like Paek, they mostly die in post, often at an advanced age. Communist regimes tend to gerontocracy: think China, at least until recently. But North Korea has taken this, like most things, to extremes.

Since Kim Jong Il succeeded his father Kim Il Sung as leader in 1994, the nominally ruling communist party, the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK), seems to be frozen – at least at the top. No new appointments to the Politburo have been announced in over a decade. Instead its ranks have been thinned by the remorseless march of mortality.

Latest to go was Kye Ung Tae, who as KWP secretary for national security wielded far more power than Paek Nam Sun. Kye died of lung cancer on November 23, aged 81. That leaves just six full Politburo members. One anti-Japanese guerilla veteran and honorary vice president Pak Song Chol passed 93 last September. Three others are over 80. Titular head of state Kim Yong Nam turns 79 on February 4, just before the “dear leader” Kim Jong Il a mere lad by comparison reaches his 65th birthday.

That would be retiring age in most normal countries. But Kim Jong Il has yet to name a successor, among several competing sons and other contenders. His health is said to be not of the best although such rumors have proved premature in the past.

A nuclear North Korea is indeed a worry, but it is not the only one. The world, and even Pyongyang, will take the death of Paek Nam Sun (who?) in its stride. But Kim Jong Il could go just as suddenly. In that case all bets for North Korea would be off.


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.


ROK mitigates calls for additional sanctions-Japan in no hurry

Saturday, July 22nd, 2006

From the Korea Herald:

Lee opposes additional sanctions on N. Korea

South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok has taken another shot at the United States, saying that additional sanctions against North Korea were undesirable.

“The solution to the missile problem is for South Korea and the United States to collaborate and for China, Russia and other countries to cooperate […] We must think about whether what the United States does immediately equals to what the international community wants to do.”

Lee’s comments are in line with the South Korean government’s policy to expand sanctions against the communist regime and avoid creating further tension on the peninsula, government officials later explained.

Lee underscored the “South Korean government, as a valid member of the international community must make our own voice known as well.”

The Seoul government has been visibly cautious against slapping sanctions on North Korea, which test-fired a barrage of ballistic missiles July 5 despite international warnings.

“There must not be any more comments or actions that will heighten military tension on the Korean Peninsula,” Lee said.

He urged that it was most important to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table and not give it more time to further develop any weapons.

But inter-Korean relations continue to take on a sour note. Upon North Korea’s demand to halt the ongoing construction of a family reunion center in Mount Geumgang, most of the 150 South Korean workers were set to return home yesterday afternoon.

The United States, in the meantime, reportedly refused a visa application for Ri Gun, North Korea’s director-general of the North American Division at the Foreign Ministry.

Ri was set to attend a seminar hosted by Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University later this month.

The United States is stepping up pressure on the North through investigating its alleged money counterfeiting and by highlighting its human rights abuses.

Japan has also made moves to fortify its defense lineup against the possible threat from North Korea.

“To solve this, any form of dialogue must be accomplished (with the North),” Lee said. Seoul officials said bilateral talks between the United States and North Korea should be considered as a possibility.

Here is what the US has been up to: 6/22/2006 From the Joong Ang Daily:

U.S. and Japan press on with plans for sanctions

The recent visit to Seoul by a U.S. Treasury Department official and his stops in other regional capitals is a sign that Washington intends to tighten the financial noose around Pyongyang. After telling Korean officials that Washington might reinstate trade sanctions on North Korea that were lifted during the Clinton administration, Stuart Levey, the under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, moved on to Vietnam, Singapore and Japan. Sources in Seoul said yesterday that the main purpose of his trip was to search for bank accounts linked to illicit activities in which North Korea is engaged.

On Tuesday, the under secretary reportedly met with Vietnamese government and financial officials. A diplomat in Seoul said, “A bank account that is used by Hyundai Asan and North Korea has been under investigation there.”

Last autumn, Washington warned Banco Delta Asia in Macao of financial sanctions if it did not tighten its controls against money laundering; about 40 North Korean accounts there have reportedly been frozen. Hyundai Asan once sent its payments to North Korea to that bank; Pyongyang has directed the payments to other bank accounts in Austria and Vietnam since then.

After arriving in Tokyo on Thursday Mr. Levey reportedly gave officials there a list of persons and companies suspected of being linked to North Korea’s missile programs. The U.S. official also discussed with his hosts possible measures to block the flow of cash from ethnic Koreans in Japan to their homeland, a move Tokyo has said publicly it was considering.

In Singapore, at least one bank account has been linked to money sent by the Hyundai Group to North Korea before the 2000 inter-Korean summit between Kim Dae-jung of South Korea and Kim Jong-il. Ironically, Don Kirk, a reporter for the International Herald Tribune in Seoul, mentioned that account in an article he wrote shortly after the summit; Seoul reacted with fury and the matter lay dormant for some time. Prosecutors eventually announced in 2003 that $450 million had been sent to North Korea to induce Kim Jong-il to host the summit meeting.

As other nations study ways to step up pressure on North Korea, the Roh administration remains defiant in pursuing reconciliation. But even more important to North Korea than the South is China. Efforts to coordinate sanctions have centered on the North’s major ally and provider of food and energy; Beijing is seen internationally as having enough leverage to bring Pyongyang back to the six-nation nuclear negotiations.

But a senior Chinese general said Thursday there was little his government could do. Guo Boxiong, the vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, flatly told an audience at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., that “China cannot possibly force the DPRK to do anything or not to do anything.”

Separately in Washington, the Bush administration is planning to implement the recent United Nations Security Council resolution on North Korean missiles and nuclear programs by enacting new legislation. Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, told a news conference that a bill called the “North Korea Nonproliferation Act” is in the works. It would bar companies or individuals involved in North Korea’s mass weapons programs from doing any business with U.S. companies. The act is similar to legislation already in force, aimed at Iran in 2000 and then expanded to include Syria.

Defenses against missiles are also being given more attention. Washington and Tokyo are expected to sign an agreement on the operation of missile defense systems that includes commitments to more sharing of intelligence on North Korea. The Mainichi Shimbun, a Tokyo daily, added in an article yesterday that the agreement will allow Japan to receive U.S. satellite photos and data more quickly.

by Lee Chul-hee, Brian Lee

From the Associated Press (Via Korea Liberator)

Japan Won’t Rush Sanctions on North Korea
Hiroko Tabuchi

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Wednesday Japan will not rush to impose more sanctions on North Korea, amid reports Tokyo may call for five-party talks on the sidelines of a regional security forum on the North’s nuclear ambitions.

Japan, meanwhile, plans to launch two spy satellites to monitor North Korean activity by the end of the year, a news report said.

Koizumi told reporters Wednesday Japan will wait for a further response from North Korea to a U.N. Security Council resolution and a Group of Eight summit statement condemning its missile test-launches.

“North Korea should take the resolution and the (G-8) chairman’s statement seriously. I think it’s better for us to wait and see,” Koizumi said.

He also urged Pyongyang to return to six-nation talks on its nuclear weapons program, which have stalled over the North’s anger at U.S. sanctions for alleged counterfeiting and money laundering activities.

Koizumi’s remarks seemed at odds with recent hardline remarks by Japan’s top government spokesman, as well as a report carried earlier Wednesday by Japan’s largest daily newspaper, the Yomiuri Shimbun.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe suggested Tuesday that Tokyo had begun preparations to impose further economic sanctions on North Korea.

The Yomiuri said Wednesday Japan was considering banning cash remittances and freezing North Korean assets in Japan early next month. The newspaper did not say where it got the information.

Tokyo has so far imposed only limited sanctions — such as barring a North Korean trade ferry from Japanese ports — against North Korea in response to its missile tests.

A separate news report said Wednesday Japan has called for five-party talks, excluding Pyongyang, on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum next week to explore ways to resume stalled multilateral negotiations on the North’s nuclear ambitions.

It remained unclear whether the talks — potentially involving Japan, South Korea, Russia, China and the United States — would materialize, because Beijing hasn’t said whether it is willing to participate, Kyodo News agency reported. Kyodo did not say where it obtained the information.

Chun Young Woo, South Korea’s deputy foreign minister and chief South Korean delegate to the six-party talks, was slated to visit Japan for talks Thursday with Japanese counterpart Kenichiro Sasae.

Also Wednesday, Japan’s space agency, JAXA, said it would launch two more spy satellites using H-2A rockets, according to Kyodo. JAXA launched two spy satellites in March 2003 to monitor North Korea. JAXA officials couldn’t be reached for comment late Wednesday.

North Korea drew international condemnation this month after test firing seven missiles, including a long-range Taepodong-2 believed capable of reaching parts of the U.S.

On Saturday, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution criticizing the missile tests and banning all U.N. member states from trading with Pyongyang in missile-related technology. The North has since rejected the resolution, warning of further repercussions.


DPRK embassy opens in London

Wednesday, April 30th, 2003

From the BBC:

Foreign minister Choe Su-hon is attending the opening ceremony, and he will meet his British counterpart Bill Rammell, who will press for more information about the secretive nation’s nuclear programme.

The isolated Stalinist state’s interests will be represented from the house of its charge d’affaires, Ri Tae-gun, in Ealing, west London.

Britain initiated diplomatic relations with North Korea in December 2000, after five decades of mutual enmity after the Korean war.

A British embassy was opened in the communist state in July 2001, while three North Korean officials were accredited to an office in London.

The leafy suburb of Ealing is far from the opulence of Kensington and Mayfair where embassies are traditionally located.

But North Korean diplomats will benefit from easy access to Heathrow, extensive green spaces and good public transport links.

Officials are said to be looking for a permanent site in central London.

In line with the secretive atmosphere in North Korea, an official at the embassy refused to discuss Wednesday’s ceremony “for security reasons”.


Economic ills shape crisis

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2003

From the BBC:

North Korea’s economy has been in the doldrums for more than a decade. Perhaps as many as a million people perished in a famine during the 1990s, and the food situation inside the country remains precarious today.

There are two hypotheses about why a country facing such problems has pursued nuclear weapons.

1. Its nuclear programme is merely a bargaining chip to be traded away to extract political and economic concessions from the US – a kind of atomic “trick or treat”.

2.  The North Koreans regard nuclear weapons as an end in themselves – a military deterrent and the ultimate guarantor of the regime’s survival.

North Korea’s foreign ministry said as much on 18 April when it declared, “The Iraqi war teaches a lesson that in order to prevent war and defend the security of a country and the sovereignty of a nation, it is necessary to have a powerful deterrent force only.”

Yet even from this perspective, there is an intriguing economic angle.

If a nuclear North Korea were to foreswear aggression toward South Korea, then its huge conventional forces would be redundant.

Its million-man army, an albatross around the economy’s neck, could be demobilised.

In fact, before the nuclear crisis erupted last October, North Korea floated trial balloons regarding the possibility of such a demobilisation.

But if the North’s army is to be demobilised, those troops have to have jobs to go to.

Last July, the government announced a package of policy changes designed to revitalise the economy.

These included marketisation, the promotion of special economic zones, and a diplomatic opening toward Japan, which the North hoped would pay billions of dollars in post-colonial claims and aid.

However, the rapprochement with Tokyo has stalled, and the expected capital infusion has not materialised.

The consensus of outside observers is that, so far, the reforms have largely failed to deliver.

Indeed, some of the policy changes, such as the creation of massive inflation and the demand that North Koreans surrender their holdings of dollars, could be interpreted as an attempt to re-assert state influence rather than reform the system.

Last month, Pyongyang introduced a new financial instrument it called a bond, though it is more like a lottery ticket. A mass campaign encouraging citizens to purchase these bonds suggests that politics, not personal finance, is the main selling point.

To make matters worse, the oil flow through a pipeline from China on which North Korea depends was interrupted earlier this month for several days.

The official explanation was that mechanical failure, not diplomatic arm-twisting, was the cause.

In sum, the economic situation remains dire.

However, both China and South Korea have indicated that while they want to see a negotiated resolution [to the nuclear issue], they are unwilling to embargo North Korea in the way the US envisions.

This reluctance to sanction Pyongyang undercuts the credibility of the US threat to isolate North Korea.

The Bush administration’s own rhetoric also calls into question its willingness to promote North Korea’s constructive integration into the global community.  

Marcus Noland is a senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics, and author of Avoiding the Apocalypse: The Future of the Two Koreas.