NOR-KOR DEMANDS WITHDRAWAL OF SANCTIONS / GOAL OF NUKE-FREE NOR-KOR A CHALLENGE TO US AND CHINA

PYONGYANG, APRIL 16, 2013 (MANILA STANDARD) North Korea on Thursday demanded the withdrawal of UN sanctions and the end of US-South Korea military drills as conditions for resuming talks meant to defuse tension on the Korean Peninsula.

The statement from the Policy Department of the National Defense Commission, the country’s top governing body, came four days after Pyongyang rejected Seoul’s latest dialogue offer as insincere. The US says it is prepared to talk to the North but Pyongyang must first bring down tensions and honor previous disarmament agreements.

“Dialogue can never go with war actions,” said the statement, which was carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

Before the talks can resume, the statement said the US must also withdraw all nuclear weapons assets from South Korea and the region. It said South Korea, for its part, must stop all anti-North Korea talks, such as its recent announcement blaming Pyongyang for a cyberattack that shut down tens of thousands of computers and servers at South Korean broadcasters and banks last month. North Korea has denied responsibility for the cyberattack.

Later Thursday, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the North’s demand as illogical. “We again strongly urge North Korea to stop this kind of insistence that we cannot totally understand and go down the path of a wise choice,” spokesman Cho Tai-young told reporters.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who returned this week from a trip to Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing, yesterday said the prospect for negotiations depended on progress toward ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

“We’re not going to reward them, and come to the table, and get into some food deal, without some pretty ironclad concept on how we’re going forward on the denuclearization,” Kerry said.

In recent weeks, North Korea has ratcheted up tension on the divided peninsula, threatening to attack the U.S. and South Korea over the military drills and sanctions imposed for its February nuclear test. Pyongyang calls the annual drills a rehearsal for invasion. South Korean officials have also said the North is poised to test-fire a medium-range missile capable of reaching the American territory of Guam.

The ongoing annual drills, called Foal Eagle, are to finish at the end of April. Seoul and Washington officials say they are defensive in nature, and insist they have no intentions of invading the North.

The U.S. has about 28,500 troops in South Korea to help deter potential aggression from North Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War. That war ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

N. Korea celebrates amid nuke test threat By Manila Standard Today | Posted on Apr. 16, 2013 at 12:02am | 837 views

Tokyo — The United States and Japan opened the door Sunday to new nuclear talks with North Korea if the saber-rattling country lowered tensions and honored past agreements, even as it rejected South Korea’s latest offer of dialogue as a “crafty trick.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters that North Korea would find “ready partners” in the United States if it began abandoning its nuclear program.

Japan’s foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, also demanded a resolution to a dispute concerning Japanese citizens abducted decades ago by North Korean officials.

The diplomats seemed to point the way for a possible revival of the six-nation talks that have been suspended for four years.

But while the US, China, Japan and South Korea had reached an agreement to coax the reclusive communist regime back to talks, residents of North Korea marked the 101st birth anniversary of state founder Kim Il Sung, oblivious to international tensions over a possible North Korean missile launch.

Pyongyang residents spilled into the streets to celebrate, as girls in red and pink jackets skipped along streets festooned with celebratory banners and flags and parents pushed strollers with babies bundled up against the spring chill as the isolated, impoverished nation began observing a three-day holiday.

Kerry’s message of openness to diplomacy was clear, however unlikely the chances appeared that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s government would meet the American’s conditions.

“I’m not going to be so stuck in the mud that an opportunity to actually get something done is flagrantly wasted because of a kind of predetermined stubbornness,” he told U.S.-based journalists.

Tensions have run high on the Korean Peninsula for months, with North Korea testing a nuclear device and its intercontinental ballistic missile technology.

The reclusive communist state hasn’t stopped there. It has issued almost daily threats that have included possible nuclear strikes against the United States.

While many threats have been dismissed as bluster, U.S. and South Korea say they believe the North in the coming days may test a mid-range missile designed to reach as far as Guam, the U.S. territory in the Pacific where the Pentagon is deploying a land-based missile-defense system.

Japan is the last stop on a 10-day trip overseas for Kerry, who visited Seoul and Beijing as well in recent days.

At each stop along his trip, Kerry stressed that the US wanted a peaceful resolution of the North Korea situation six decades after a cease-fire ended the Korean War.

But North Korea on Sunday served a reminder of the difficult task ahead. Its Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said the government had no intention of talking with Seoul unless the South abandons its confrontational posture, as the North called it.

Kerry had stressed that gaining China’s commitment to a denuclearized North Korea was no small matter given its historically strong military and economic ties to North Korea.

FROM PHILSTAR

Goal of nuclear-free NKorea tests US, China ties (philstar.com) | Updated April 19, 2013 - 7:06am

BEIJING (AP) — Bound by threats from North Korea, the US and China agreed yesterday to rid the bellicose nation of nuclear weapons in a test of whether the world powers can shelve years of rivalry and discord, and unite in fostering global stability.

Beyond this latest attempt to restrain North Korea, the burgeoning nuclear crisis has so frustrated the US and China that they are forming a new and tentative bond with the potential to carry over into areas that have vexed them for decades.

But they will need to overcome the longstanding prickly relations between Beijing's communist government and Washington's free-market democracy. The two are economic competitors, and China is far more reluctant than the US to intervene in international military conflicts.

US Secretary of State John Kerry on yesterday described a "synergy" between the two countries to achieve worldwide security and economic stability.

"We have a stake in China's success. And frankly, China has a stake in the success of the United States," Kerry told reporters in the Chinese capital. "And that became clear in all of our conversations here today. A constructive partnership that is based on mutual interest benefits everybody in the world."

Kerry met with the new Chinese leaders to discuss a range of issues, most notably the persistent and increasingly pitched threats that North Korea has issued against the US, South Korea and Japan the over the past several months.

North Korea appears to be readying a missile test, in what the US says would be its third since December, and there are varying opinions in Washington as to whether the North is able to develop and launch nuclear-tipped missiles.

One US intelligence assessment suggested North Korea had the capacity to put a nuclear warhead on a missile, even if any such weapon would have low reliability.

Kerry and the Chinese foreign policy chief, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, said the two nations would work together to create a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, effectively forcing North Korea to give up its arsenal.


[NORTH KOREA DEVLOPING LONG RANGE MISSILES]

The reclusive North Korean government and its young leader, Kim Jong Un, are more likely to listen to China, its main economic and diplomatic partner and lifeline to the outside world, than anyone else.

Yang, through an interpreter, described China's stance on North Korea as "clear cut" and called for resuming the six-nation talks that fell apart four years ago and are aimed at ending the nuclear threat.

"China is firmly committed to upholding peace and stability and advancing the denuclearization process on the Korean peninsula," Yang told reporters. "We maintain that the issue should be handled and resolved peacefully through dialogue. ... To properly address the Korean nuclear issue serves the interests of all parties."

But Kerry made clear that the US would keep close watch on how China continues to deal with North Korea "to make sure that this is not rhetoric, but that it is real policy that is being implemented."

North Korea was but one issue that was high on the priority list of discussions, Kerry said.

China and the US have the two most powerful economies and are two of the largest energy users. They agreed to hold high-level talks on climate change and to ease business investment cooperation.

Kerry also raised the possibility of scaling back America's military presence in the Asia-Pacific region once the Korean nuclear crisis is resolved. Beijing has been disgruntled about US missile defense systems in China's backyard.

"Obviously, if the threat disappears," meaning a nuclear-free North Korea, "the same imperative does not exist at that point in time for us to have that kind of robust, forward-leaning posture of defense," Kerry said. "And it is our hope in the short run that we can address that."

Western experts predict that China will move slowly and cautiously, if at all, toward becoming a more reliable US ally. China remains deeply skeptical of President Barack Obama's policy shift to Asia, which Beijing views as US attempts to contain its economic might.

It's also unlikely that China will sever its long ties with North Korea. The Chinese dramatically have boosted trade with their neighbors and maintain close military relations some six decades after they fought side by side in the Korean War. They provide North Korea with most of its fuel and much of its food aid.

China has a history of quickly reversing course after talking tougher with North Korea. In late 2010, as American officials were praising Beijing for constructive efforts after the North shelled a South Korean island, a Chinese company agreed to invest $2 billion in a North Korean industrial zone.

"The US has to be cautious in expecting a major breakthrough on North Korea out of the new Chinese leadership," said Christopher Johnson, a former CIA analyst who is now a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "There's a risk of too much exuberance on the US side. ... The Chinese just can't turn the battleship as quickly as we might like."

But Johnson said even minor progress on North Korea could translate into a warming between Washington and Beijing, which appears now to be "at least willing to talk."

"If we can talk on an issue that is as sensitive as North Korea, we can talk about other issues," Johnson said. "It speaks very well for other touchy issues in the relationship at the moment."


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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