South Korea

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From left to right, Soo Jeong Kim, Asian cultures and languages and finance senior, theatre graduate student Yong Min Lee and David Nielsen, Asian cultures and languages and finance senior, perform in an art piece about a family that leaves North Korea as part of Liberty in North Korea’s Awareness Day. The event aims to raise awareness about the human rights violations that are taking place in North Korea.
Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

The UT chapter of Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) urged students to send letters of solidarity to the North Korean people during its biannual day of awareness for the human rights violations occurring in North Korea. 

The event Friday aimed to educate the University community about the human side of the political crisis in North Korea, according to Sarah Choi, UT LiNK chapter’s vice president and cellular and molecular biology junior. The current turmoil started in 1945 when Cold War geopolitics split the peninsula into North and South Korea.

“We wanted to emphasize the people side of North Korea, instead of the politics,” Choi said. “There is an abuse of human rights that is going on in North Korea apart from the nuclear issue and the dictatorship.”

The national organization focuses its efforts on using the funds University chapters raise to rescue refugees. Otherwise, Chinese officials would send these refugees back to North Korea, where they would face likely imprisonment in concentration camps, Choi said.

“When North Korean refugees leave the country, they cross the [Yalu] River to enter China, a country that does not recognize their refugee status,” Choi said. “LiNK headquarters sends rescue teams to China to help the refugees get refugee status through the U.S. or South Korea. Basically, we are an underground railroad.”

Most of the $3,500 it takes to rescue a refugee is used to convince officials in China and North Korea to release the refugees into the hands of LiNK rescue teams, according to Kirstin Helgeson, UT LiNK chapter’s social media chair and linguistics and mathematics sophomore.

“3,500 sounds like it is a lot of money for just one person, but really most of it is used for bribery, which is sad,” Helgeson said.

The UT LiNK chapter has helped save a total of 12 refugees since its founding in 2006.

LiNK uses $500 of the funds to help provide educational scholarships to the refugees, said Amy Kridaratikorn, LiNK member and advertising junior.

Kridaratikorn said the way LiNK clearly outlines how the organization intends to use the funds makes her confident about its philanthropic efforts.

“For LiNK, you raise a set amount of funds, and then you save a refugee,” Kridaratikorn said. “Later on, they send you [the refugee’s name] and a thank you note from them, so I know exactly who my efforts are helping.”

Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

Liberty in North Korea, or LiNK, an on-campus humanitarian organization, held an awareness event at Gregory Plaza on Friday to raise funds for North Korean refugees.

According to Hamaila Qureshi, nutrition senior and the organization’s president, LiNK seeks to raise awareness about the living conditions of refugees from North Korea.

“We want to focus on what the people are going through,” Qureshi said. “We do a lot of fundraising to rescue refugees hiding in China because China doesn’t recognize them as economic migrants.”

Qureshi said LiNK is an international organization that will take refugees to undisclosed shelters in places such as North America or South Korea, depending on where the refugees want to move.

“We saved a mom, Haejung, and her daughter Su,” Qureshi said. “They are currently residing in South Korea. One of our members, [a UT alum], actually goes to South Korea and keeps up with her and Su. It’s really nice how we get to stay in touch with them.”

The organization is currently raising funds for its ninth refugee. According to Qureshi, it takes around $3,000 to rescue a refugee.

“Right now, we’ve made $1,800,” Qureshi said. “On campus, we do have a lot of people who are interested. We raise about $1,000 for each event, so it does make an impact.”

The event Friday focuses on Jangmadang, the North Korean black market. To educate the students about conditions for the people in North Korea, the organization set up a mock black market.

Lizzy Barbaree, unspecified business freshman and LiNK member, said the group’s original aim was just to raise awareness about the conditions in North Korea, but, with the items they sell, they can also save lives.

“We are selling notebooks, bracelets, lip balm and key chains,” Barbaree said. “A lot of stuff is actually handmade, and we also designed the T-shirts.”

Amanda Wong, Biology sophomore, purchased a food product called “Choco Pie” because she believes in the organization’s cause.

“I read the news and know what’s going on in North Korea,” Wong said. “[North Korea] stopped giving Choco Pie, and South Korea sent over a lot of Choco Pie in retaliation. I think it’s wrong for them to not allow them to have Choco Pie; that food gives them a sense of hope.”

Ambassador Suk-Bum Park, Consul General of the Republic of Korea gave a talk on the future of Korea-US relations in the Will C. Hogg building on Wednesday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Shweta Gulati | Daily Texan Staff

In a speech on campus Wednesday, Suk-bum Park, consulate general of the Republic of Korea, said that, although there are many cultural differences between the U.S. and South Korea, increases in trade have improved the two countries’ diplomatic relationship with each other.

Park is responsible for spreading Korean cultural awareness in Southeastern U.S., including Texas, Mississippi and Oklahoma. 

Park said that despite differing in cultural viewpoints, the two countries have still managed to get along.

“The U.S. is seen from the outside as a superpower,” Park said. “It’s a big juggernaut, a behemoth, something [Korea] cannot touch. … But the status quo in East Asia is changing. South Korea has … formed a relationship based on mutual trust with the U.S.”

Park said a major benchmark in U.S.-Korea relations was the Mutual Defense Treaty, signed in 1953, which led to a 60-year friendship between the two nations.

“The U.S.-[Republic of Korea] treaty gave birth to an unshakable alliance between the U.S. and Korea,” Park said. “These alliance relations … were the lynchpin to peace and stability in East Asia.”

Stratton Gaines, an Asian cultures and languages sophomore, said he attended the talk because of his enthusiasm for the region.

“I have a strong interest in East Asian relations,” Gaines said. “I plan on working, maybe, in the future in a diplomatic position, so it’s a field I’m interested in.”

Robert Oppenheim, director of the Center for East Asian Studies, said the relationship between the U.S. and Korea was particularly important because of the economic ties between the two countries. 

“The alliance between the U.S. and [Korea] is one of the oldest relationships the U.S. has in Asia, and factors as well into a lot of other
important regional issues,” Oppenheim said. “South Korean technology, industry and investment of other sorts are themselves increasingly important, globally.”

Park also pointed out economic benefits Korea brings to the United States, mentioning the country’s role in manufacturing products, such as computers, cars and chemicals. 

“South Korea has transformed into one of the major trade nations,” Park said. “Take, for example, some major brand names, like Hyundai [or] Samsung. These names, somehow, have become household names for many people.”

Park said the influence of pop stars, such as South Korean singer PSY, has boosted the Korean economy and U.S.-Korea relations as well.

“His name and his style have become famous throughout the world,” Park said. “He’s even more famous than the [Korean] president.”

South Korean army soldiers walk on the empty road after South Korean vehicles which were refused for entry to North Korea at the customs, immigration and quarantine office in Paju, South Korea, near the border village of Panmunjom, Wednesday, April 3, 2013. North Korea on Wednesday barred South Korean workers from entering a jointly run factory park just over the heavily armed border in the North, officials in Seoul said, a day after Pyongyang announced it would restart its long-shuttered plutonium reactor and increase production of nuclear weapons material.(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

PAJU, South Korea — In past deadly confrontations between North and South Korea, a jointly operated industrial park stayed open, churning out goods.

But in the latest sign that North Korea’s warlike stance toward South Korea and the United States is moving from words to action, the North on Wednesday barred South Korean managers and trucks delivering supplies from crossing the border to enter the Kaesong industrial park.

It’s an announcement that further escalates a torrent of actions that analysts say is aimed at pressuring the U.S. and South Korea to change their policies toward North Korea.

The Kaesong move came a day after the North said it would restart its long-shuttered plutonium reactor and a uranium enrichment plant. Both could produce fuel for nuclear weapons that North Korea is developing and has threatened to hurl at the U.S., but which experts don’t think it will be able to accomplish for years.

The North’s rising rhetoric has been met by a display of U.S. military strength, including flights of nuclear-capable bombers and stealth jets at annual South Korean-U.S. military drills that the allies call routine and North Korea says are invasion preparations.

The Kaesong industrial park started producing goods in 2004 and has been an unusual point of cooperation in an otherwise hostile relationship between the Koreas, whose three-year war ended in 1953 with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Destinee Hooker spikes a ball in an opening round match against defending gold medalists Brazil.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Former Longhorn Destinee Hooker and the United States women indoor volleyball team have easily cruised to a 5-0 record in the qualification round in London. The U.S. contingent will advance to the second phase of competition, which consists of eight teams playing in a quarterfinal, semifinal and final round. In 2008, the American team came home with silver after losing the gold medal match 3-1 against Brazil.

The United States took the court in the first game against South Korea and was able to finish the match with a 3-1 victory. Two days later, they took the match against Brazil 3-1, the reigning gold medalists from the Beijing Games. U.S. completed its first sweep Aug. 1 with a 3-0 victory over China, who took bronze in Beijing.

The American women clinched their side of the bracket, Group B, with their sweep of Serbia Aug. 3. Hooker led the team with 12 kills and six blocks. Sunday afternoon, United States completed the first phase with a 3-0 sweep of Turkey.

Hooker is second in scoring with 104 points behind South Korea’s Kim Yeon-Koung with 137. Hooker has logged 87 spikes with 14 blocks and 3 serves.

Brazil and Serbia will not be continuing in the second phase, having been eliminated after the first round. Russia, Italy, Japan and the Dominican Republic also qualified for the second phase out of Group A with Great Britain, the host country, and Algeria having been eliminated.

Hooker and the United States will face the Dominican Republic Aug. 7 in the quarterfinal round of the second phase of competition. The United States is the top qualifier from Group B and will be the top seed going into the second phase of competition.

A South Korean protester hangs an effigy of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un near the North’s mock missiles during an anti-North Korea rally denouncing North’s plan to launch a long-range rocket in Seoul on Tuesday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea fired a long-range rocket early Friday, South Korean and U.S. officials said, defying international warnings against moving forward with a launch widely seen as a provocation.

Liftoff took place at 7:39 a.m. from the west coast launch pad in the hamlet of Tongchang-ri, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said, citing South Korean and U.S. intelligence.

However, the launch may have failed, U.S. officials said in Washington. South Korean officials said they could not confirm that.

Japan’s Defense Minister Naiki Tanaka said, “We have confirmed that a certain flying object has been launched and fell after flying for just over a minute.” He did not say what exactly was launched.

He said there was no impact on Japanese territory from the launch.

In Pyongyang, there was no word about a launch, and state television was broadcasting video for popular folk tunes. North Korean officials said they would make an announcement about the launch “soon.”

North Korea had earlier announced it would send a three-stage rocket mounted with a satellite as part of celebrations honoring national founder Kim Il Sung, whose 100th birthday is being celebrated Sunday.

Space officials say the rocket is meant to send a satellite into orbit to study crops and weather patterns — its third bid to launch a satellite since 1998. The United States, Britain, Japan and others, however, have called such a launch a violation of U.N. resolutions prohibiting North Korea from nuclear and ballistic missile activity.

Experts say the Unha-3 carrier is the same type of rocket that would be used to launch a long-range missile aimed at the U.S. and other targets. North Korea has tested two atomic devices but is not believed to have mastered the technology needed to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has warned that the launch would be a direct threat to regional security and said the U.S. would pursue “appropriate action” at the U.N. Security Council if North Korea goes ahead with it.

According to projections, the first stage of the rocket is due to fall into the ocean off the western coast of South Korea, while the second stage of the rocket was due to fall into waters off the eastern coast of the Philippine island of Luzon.

North Korean space officials have dismissed assertions that the launch is a cover for developing missile technology as “nonsense.”

___

Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim contributed to this report from Seoul, South Korea.

ISTANBUL — A year of sanctions, diplomacy and harsh rhetoric failed to stop Syria’s bloody crackdown and oust President Bashar Assad. With frustration running high, Turkey and other countries that have staked moral credibility on ending the violence are increasingly looking at intervention on Syrian soil, a strategy they have so far avoided for lack of international consensus and fears it could widen the conflict.

Diplomacy has not yet run its course, but more treacherous options, including aid to Syrian rebels, are likely to come up at a meeting of dozens of countries that oppose Assad, including the United States and its European and Arab partners, in Istanbul on April 1.

One prominent option floated by Turkey is a “buffer zone” on the Turkish-Syrian border, which could amount to a foreign military occupation, intent on regime change even if the aim is humanitarian in name. The risks of such an endeavor in a combustible region are evident in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon decades ago and Syria’s own military presence in Lebanon until 2005.

Yet, comparisons with international hesitation over the Balkans bloodshed in the 1990s make it ever harder to engage in seemingly endless, and fruitless, diplomacy.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed Syria with U.S. President Barack Obama on Sunday at a nuclear security conference in South Korea, and said it was not possible to tolerate events there. Earlier, Erdogan was asked by reporters on his plane whether a safe zone inside Syria was on the agenda.

“Studies are under way,” Erdogan said. “It would depend on developments. The ‘right to protection’ may be put into use, according to international rules. We are trying to find a solution by engaging Russia, China and Iran.”

Erdogan predicted that “everything could change” if those countries withdraw their support for Syria, and he accused Assad of reviving ties with and “protecting” rebels of the PKK, a Turkish Kurd group at war with the Turkish state. Turkey already hosts some 17,000 Syrian refugees, and casting the Syrian crisis in terms of Turkey’s national security strengthens the case for intervention.

U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan was discussing Syria on Sunday in Russia, which vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at pressuring Assad but has shown increasing impatience with him. His next stop is Beijing, which also blocked U.N. action.

Annan’s plan, endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, includes a cease-fire by Syrian forces, a daily two-hour halt to fighting to evacuate the injured and provide aid, and inclusive talks about a political solution.

But, there are still questions about how such an agreement would be overseen and enforced. An Arab League monitoring effort in Syria failed, labeled a farce by some who participated. The likelihood that a Syrian regime that has shelled cities would talk in good faith to the people it targeted is remote, and outgunned Syrian rebels say the time is long past for any negotiation.

The United Nations says more than 8,000 people have died. Many were civilian protesters.

Assad bucked the trend of relatively quick transitions to new governments in regional uprisings. Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, where a NATO bombing campaign helped oust Moammar Gadhafi, did not bear the same geopolitical tensions as the Syrian case. The conflict there comes as Israel considers a plan to bomb the nuclear facilities of Iran, a regional power and close ally of Assad, and further destabilization in Syria could set off lasting unrest.

Turkey and the United States, in an election year, “are reluctant to make more forceful moves because of the long-term costs of policing the sectarian violence that will surely happen following the collapse of the Assad regime,” said Arda Batu, professor of international relations at Yeditepe University in Istanbul and editor-in-chief of the Kalem Journal, a website about regional affairs.

The countries meeting in Istanbul hope to help the Syrian opposition coalesce into a more coherent movement that can show all Syrians, not only the majority Sunni Muslims, that they would have a place in a post-Assad future.

The “Friends of Syria” group of more than 60 countries made little headway at its maiden meeting in Tunisia in February, and countries are already talking about creating a subgroup to discuss military options more urgently. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are some of the strongest advocates of this approach.

One idea sees Arab countries and Turkey — with the U.S., ideally, but possibly without — establishing a buffer zone along the Syrian-Turkish border that would serve as a humanitarian corridor and staging ground for the rebel Free Syrian Army. On the Syrian side of the border, it would entail army defectors and other guerrillas wresting control of land and holding it, which they have been unable to do.

Earlier this month, CIA chief David Petraeus met Erdogan in Ankara. Turkish media said the prime minister warned that deepening instability in Syria would provide a “living space” for militant organizations active in the region, including the PKK.

On Saturday, Turkey’s Yeni Safak newspaper, which is considered close to the government, said 500 military personnel have inspected areas close to the border for a safe zone that could stretch 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) inside Syria, and would end their “studies” before the meeting in Istanbul.

The newspaper did not provide sources, but the report contributed to a sense that the safe zone idea is slowly gaining traction despite the pitfalls.

“If the U.S. is not involved, there is no way Turkey would get involved in it,” said Osman Bahadir Dincer, a Syria expert at the International Strategic Research Organisation, a center in Ankara, the Turkish capital. However, he predicted “some kind of an intervention in the form of a buffer zone or a safe zone” within one or two months.

Dincer said a decision to arm the Free Syrian Army was unlikely at the Istanbul meeting amid questions over the composition of the ragtag militias, and divisions between fighters in Syria and the Syrian National Council, the opposition group based outside the country.

“The opposition is too fragmented, there is confusion as to which group represents who, or what they represent,” he said.

The U.S. and other key allies, however, are considering providing Syrian rebels with communications help, medical aid and other “non-lethal” assistance. Ben Rhodes, the White House deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, said in South Korea on Sunday that communications assistance could be critical to the opposition’s efforts.

If any military intervention is to gain the international legitimacy that was accorded the Libya mission, it will need the U.N.’s stamp of approval. That requires the acquiescence of veto-wielding Security Council members Russia and China, an unlikely possibility that could only occur if they are included in the process and feel similarly betrayed by the Assad regime.

Without the U.N., the U.S. would be stretched to justify military involvement. It could help NATO ally Turkey in the event of a Syrian attack across the border, or make a U-turn on a doctrine of caution about intervention that Obama has insisted on since he was a presidential candidate.

“Of course, it is not possible to remain a spectator, to wait and not to intervene,” Erdogan said in South Korea, with Obama at his side. “It is our humanitarian and conscientious responsibility. We are engaged in efforts toward doing whatever is necessary within the framework of international law. We are happy to see that our views on this overlap.”

U.S. President Barack Obama looks through binoculars to see North Korea from Observation Post Ouellette in the Demilitarized Zone, the tense military border between the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, Sunday, March 25, 2012. Obama is with Commander of the United Nations Command Security Battalion-Joint Security Area U.S. Lt. Col. Ed Taylor, right.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea — Trying to muscle North Korea toward peace over provocation, President Barack Obama is broadening his squeeze play from the heart of this tensely divided peninsula, pressuring China to show more influence and warning North Korea that it is headed toward a crippling “dead end” of isolation.

From this capital teeming with pride, Obama sought for a second day Monday to contrast the success of the South to the impoverished North, whose nuclear and missile tests have kept its neighbor on edge and itself on the wrong side of the world community. Already, he said, looking into the North from near the border was like witnessing a “time warp” of despair.

In a speech at Hankuk University, one of Seoul’s top-ranked schools, Obama will campaign against the spread of nuclear material and weaponry with North Korea’s shadow figuring large. The North plans to launch a satellite with a long-range rocket next month against fierce objections from world powers, as the same technology could be used to fire a missile.

Obama will also try to build diplomatic force by turning to China, North Korea’s main ally, when he meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao. That conversation is among a flurry of engagements for Obama, including a final meeting with departing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, on the sidelines of a major Nuclear Security Summit.

In a news conference here Sunday, Obama challenged North Korea’s pride and plans, questioning whether its young leader, Kim Jong Un, was truly
in charge.

“It’s not clear exactly who’s calling the shots and what their long-term objectives are,” Obama said. “But regardless of the North Korean leadership, what is clear is that they have not yet made that strategic pivot where they say to themselves, ‘What we’re doing isn’t working. It’s leading our country and our people down a dead end.’”

Obama then set some blunt expectations for China, questioning how much it was helping to ease tensions with North Korea by turning a “blind eye to
deliberate provocations.”

“That’s obviously not working,” Obama said. He said he did not doubt China shares the goal of a nuclear-weapons-free North Korea, but that it had to act on that.

The president’s three-day trip here amounts to a reminder of the international struggles in his lap in the midst of a re-election year driven more by economic woes. He came to solidify pressure on North Korea, seek help with crises in Syria and Iran and advance a global effort he spearheaded to keep nuclear material from getting into terrorists’ hands.

Obama wore a tired look after a 17-hour flight from Washington, a helicopter ride to the border zone, two sets of diplomatic talks, the news conference and an official dinner. But he succeeded in showing solidarity with his diplomatic friend, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, and in cementing a lasting presidential image from inside no-man’s land.

The Demilitarized Zone is a Cold War anachronism, a legacy of the uncertain armistice that ended the Korean War nearly 60 years ago. Hundreds of thousands of troops stand ready on both sides of the border zone, which is littered with land mines and encased in razor wire.

From a lookout point with binoculars is hand, Obama peered North, then South, within a football-field’s length of the demarcation line.

He also shook hands and spoke briefly in the dining hall at a U.S. military camp just outside the 2.5-mile-zone, saying the troops were working at “freedom’s frontier.”

The United States has about 28,500 troops in South Korea, a deterrent force and a symbol of the military might Obama wants to keep in Asia.

The planned rocket launch by North Korea is yet another setback for the U.S. in years of on-again, off-again attempts to launch real negotiations.

North Korea walked away from international disarmament talks in 2009. Years of fitful negotiations had succeeded in ending part of North Korea’s nuclear program but failed in stopping it from building and testing nuclear devices and long-range missiles that might be able to carry bombs.

Obama said the launch would jeopardize a new deal for the U.S. to resume food aid to North Korea, and the world community would likely respond with another round of sanctions.

The big consequence for North Korea, he said, would be one big blown opportunity.

“If a country can’t feed its people effectively, if it can’t make anything of any use to anybody, if it has no exports other than weapons, and even those aren’t ones that in any way would be considered state-of-the-art ... then you’d think you’d want to try something different.”

For his part, Lee said: “There is no difference of opinion between the U.S. and South Korea. We’ll remain very calm and rational and we will be wise in dealing with the North Koreans if in fact they do go ahead with their announcement.”

Obama has called nuclear terrorism the gravest threat the United States and the world may face. North Korea is a prime suspect in the proliferation of some nuclear know-how, along with missiles that could be used to deliver weapons of mass destruction.
 

SEOUL, South Korea — Surprise and skepticism met the announcement that North Korea would freeze most nuclear activities in exchange for food aid from the United States.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said U.S. officials will closely watch North Korea carry out its promises to suspend uranium enrichment at its Yongbyon nuclear complex, stop long-range missile and nuclear tests and allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to return.

Both sides call the steps confidence-building measures to improve relations between the U.S. and North Korea, and recognized the 1953 Korean War armistice as a “cornerstone” of peace on the Korean peninsula.

Some key questions and answers about the agreement announced late Wednesday:

Q: What is North Korea’s motivation for reaching this deal?
A: Ensuring stability. As Kim Jong Un becomes the third-generation Kim to lead the nation, North Korea’s leadership is keen to resolve potentially destabilizing issues, including the U.S. military presence in South Korea and chronic food shortages.

The Korean peninsula has been in a technical state of war since the Korean War ended in a truce in 1953, and a peace treaty with the U.S. is a key foreign policy goal for North Korea.

Food shortages in the country are chronic. Sanctions were imposed in 2006 and tightened in 2009 after two nuclear tests, and aid promised in exchange for disarmament was halted. That meant less food and resources, and harsh weather has also cut into the meager agricultural output.

The North Koreans would like to raise the issue of lifting those sanctions in future talks.

Q: What does this agreement say about Kim Jong Un’s fledgling rule?
A: This deal is the clearest sign yet that the foreign policy laid out during Kim Jong Il’s rule will be carried out under Kim Jong Un, and suggests a measure of stability and continuity in Pyongyang two months after his father’s death.

After the provocations of 2009, including the launch of a long-range missile and a nuclear test, North Korea’s foreign policy on the U.S. shifted dramatically in 2010. After Kim Jong Un was revealed during a special Workers’ Party conference in September 2010 as his father’s chosen successor, the policy toward the U.S. veered noticeably toward engagement and away from provocation.

Starting in July 2011, North Korean and U.S. diplomats met at least three times to hash out the details of a far-reaching agreement on offering food in exchange for nuclear concessions.

The Associated Press reported in December they were on the verge of signing the deal when Kim Jong Il’s death put those negotiations (of food aid for dearmament) on hold. That the North Koreans returned to the negotiations before the end of the semiofficial 100-day mourning period indicates unity.

Q: What are North Korea’s current nuclear capabilities?
A: North Korea tested nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009 and is believed to have enough weaponized plutonium for four to eight “primitive” atomic bombs, according to U.S. scientist Siegfried Hecker at Stanford University. In 2009, North Korea claimed it would begin enriching uranium, a second way to make atomic bombs, and revealed the facility to Hecker and North Korea expert Robert Carlin during a November 2010 visit.He says North Korea is not producing plutonium at the moment, but there’s little information about whether they’ve made highly enriched uranium or tried to build a bomb using it.

Q: How effective will the agreement be in curtailing North Korea’s nuclear capabilities?
A: Hecker says he has advised the U.S. government to think about three points: No more bombs, no better bombs and no exports. The suspension of uranium enrichment will limit its ability to make more bombs, while the moratorium means it won’t be able to test its devices. U.N. inspectors are to be allowed back into North Korea’s facilities to verify it is adhering to the agreement.

Q: Will North Korea ever rid itself of nuclear weapons?
A: Skepticism is widespread that North Korea will ever give up its nuclear weapons. North Korea has always cited the U.S. military presence in the region as a main reason for its drive to build atomic weapons, and having nuclear weapons to protect against the U.S. threat has always been a key source of pride for the North Koreans.

That said, North Korea insists that a nuclear-free Korean peninsula remains a goal.

Q: If this deal proceeds as expected, what will be the next step in improving relations between North Korea and the U.S. and its allies?
A: U.S. and North Korean officials must meet to discuss the technical details of distributing food aid, a tricky issue since Washington wants to be sure the food goes to malnourished children and not to the elite or the military. Next, North Korea must reach out to the International Atomic Energy Agency to allow the return of inspectors who were expelled in 2009.

The issue of tensions between the two Koreas, particularly blame for the deadly 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship, remains unresolved as does the matter of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s. Both have been obstacles to resuming the six-nation nuclear disarmament talks that also involve China and Russia.

Q: How and when will the U.S. food aid arrive?
A: U.S. officials and non-governmental organizations say experts will have to be on the ground in North Korea before food delivery begins. Aid groups say that could take anywhere from several weeks to months. Washington and Pyongyang have promised another meeting “soon” to finalize details about a proposed initial package of 240,000 metric tons of food aid, with the potential for more down the road.

It may not, however, arrive in time for the big celebrations in April to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung. Associated Press writer Foster Klug contributed to this report. Follow AP’s Korea bureau chief Jean Lee at twitter.com/newsjean and Foster Klug at twitter.com/APKlug.

Printed on Friday, March 2, 2012 as: North Korean nuclear deal raises particular question

South Korean navy sailors in a speed boat patrol around South Korea’s western Yeonpyong Island after finishing their exercise, near the disputed sea border with North Korea, South Korea, Monday, Feb. 20, 2012. South Korea on Monday conducted live-fire military drills from five islands near its disputed sea boundary with North Korea, despite Pyongyang’s threat to attack.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea conducted live-fire military drills near its disputed sea boundary with North Korea on Monday despite Pyongyang’s threat to respond with a “merciless” attack.

North Korea did not carry out the threat as it focuses on internal stability two months after the death of longtime leader Kim Jong Il and prepares for nuclear disarmament talks with the United States later this week. But with American forces scheduled to conduct additional military exercises with ally South Korea over the next few months, tensions are expected to remain high in the region.

Washington and North Korea’s neighbors are closely watching how new leader Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il’s son, navigates strained ties with rival South Korea, the planned U.S.-South Korean military drills and a standoff over nuclear weapons programs.

South Korea’s drills took place Monday in an area of the Yellow Sea that was the target of a North Korean artillery attack in 2010 that killed four South Koreans and raised fears of a wider conflict. North Korea didn’t threaten similar South Korean firing drills in the area in January, but called the latest exercise a “premeditated military provocation” and warned it would retaliate for what it considered an attack on its territory.

A North Korean officer told an Associated Press staffer in Pyongyang on Sunday that North Koreans would respond to any provocation with “merciless retaliatory strikes.”

North Korea is prepared for a “total war,” and the drills will lead to a “complete collapse” of ties between the Koreas, the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement carried Monday by the official Korean Central News Agency.
Such rhetoric has been typical of North Korean media in the past.

Later Monday, South Korean troops on five islands near the disputed sea boundary fired artillery into waters southward, away from nearby North Korea, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said on condition of anonymity, citing department rules.

North Korea’s military maintained increased vigilance during Monday’s drills, which ended after about two hours, though Seoul saw nothing suspicious, a South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff officer said on condition of anonymity, citing department rules.

South Korean military officials said they were ready to repel any attack. Residents on the front-line islands were asked to go to underground shelters before the drills started, according to South Korean officials.

Analysts said the threats allow Pyongyang to show its anger over what it sees as a violation of its territory, but that an immediate attack was unlikely during what is a delicate time for inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korean relations, and for internal North Korean politics.

“South Korea’s military would have immediately responded this time, and that’s something that North Korea can’t afford” during its transfer of power to Kim Jong Un, said Yoo Ho-yeol, a professor at Korea University in South Korea.

The North’s threat appeared aimed at mustering internal support or could be the result of top military officers showing their loyalty to Kim Jong Un, Yoo said.

The North knows that raising tensions ahead of nuclear talks with the United States won’t be advantageous, said Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea.

The Korean peninsula has been technically at war for about 60 years. The maritime line separating the countries was drawn by the U.S.-led U.N. Command without Pyongyang’s consent at the close of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with a truce, not a peace treaty. North Korea routinely argues that the line should run farther south.

Relations between the Koreas plummeted following the November 2010 shelling of front-line Yeonpyeong Island, seven miles (11 kilometers) from North Korean shores, and a deadly warship sinking in March of that year blamed on Pyongyang. North Korea has flatly denied its involvement in the sinking, which killed 46 South Korean sailors.

Kim Jong Un’s handling of North Korea’s military and diplomacy will come into sharper focus over the next several weeks.

The United States and North Korea will have important nuclear disarmament talks Thursday — the third round of bilateral talks since last summer and the first since Kim Jong Il’s Dec. 17 death. They are aimed at restarting six-nation aid-for-disarmament negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear program.

The North pulled out of those negotiations in early 2009 but has said it is willing to restart the six-nation talks, which also include China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. But the U.S. and its allies are demanding that the North first demonstrate its sincerity in ending its nuclear weapons program.

Additionally, a series of military exercises between the United States and South Korea will extend over more than two months. Seoul and Washington say their long-planned annual drills are defensive in nature, but North Korea calls them preparation for an invasion.

South Korea began joint anti-submarine drills Monday with the United States, but the training site is farther south from the disputed sea boundary, South Korean military officials said. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as what U.S. and South Korean officials call deterrence against North Korean aggression.

South Korean and U.S. troops will start 12 days of largely computer-simulated war games next week, and two months of field training drills in early March.

Early Monday, the powerful Political Bureau of the Central Committee of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party announced it would convene a conference in mid-April to “glorify” the late leader and to rally around his son.

The conference could wrap up the North’s power succession process, analyst Cheong said, with Kim Jong Un possibly promoted to general secretary of the Workers’ Party, the ruling party’s top job and one of the country’s highest positions.

Printed on Tuesday, February 21, 2012 as: Military tensions persist over Korean peninsula