New York Times March 17, 2000
1. Suddenly, Reclusive North Korea Reaches Out to Rest of the World
By HOWARD W. FRENCH
TOKYO, March 16 -- In the space of a few short weeks, North Korea has gone from one of the world's most politically reclusive states to the most diplomatically ambitious.
With little fanfare, but with a speed that has surprised many people, the Communist government in Pyongyang has established diplomatic relations with Italy and has resumed diplomatic discussions with Japan and Australia for the first time in years.
It has also recently sent out discreet feelers to at least two other major Western nations, Canada and Britain. And according to diplomats in the Philippines, it has approached their country about joining the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum.
Political experts attribute much of this diplomatic activity to a feeling among North Korean leaders that they have consolidated their authority and that their government will survive any threats by foreign countries. They also believe that the overall direction of the country is promising, given that only recently it was on the brink of economic collapse, with much of its population hit by famine.
These moves are taking place against the backdrop of talks between the United States and North Korea that diplomats say will be crucial to easing the country's isolation and lowering tensions on the Korean peninsula, one of the cold war's final flash points.
In New York this week, North Korea's deputy foreign minister, Kim Gye Gwan, and an American delegation led by Charles Kartman have been discussing final arrangements for high-level talks between the two countries tentatively scheduled for April in Washington. No high-ranking North Korean official has visited Washington since the Korean War ended in 1953.
In September, the Clinton administration lifted some trade, banking and other sanctions that had been imposed on North Korea for decades. Now Pyongyang wants Washington to take it off a list of nations that Washington says support terrorism. Among other things, the United States reportedly wants North Korea to agree that it will not resume tests of ballistic missiles like the one it fired over Japan in 1998.
Washington has also sought to encourage Pyongyang to respond more favorably to the so-called Sunshine Policy of the South Korean leader, Kim Dae Jung. North Korea has recently accepted limited forms of investment and tourism from South Korea, but has spurned offers for direct talks.
"The U.S. has been encouraging them to engage with the outside world," said Park Young Ho, a senior research fellow at the Korean Institute for National Unification, in Seoul. "This is happening at a time when North Korea seems to have realized that it needs to have more relations with other countries in order to improve its own situation."
Other experts have taken a much more skeptical view of Pyongyang's opening. They say it is a short-term ploy meant to keep North Korea's weapons programs and its often belligerent posturing from becoming campaign issues in important legislative elections in South Korea in April, and in the United States presidential election in November.
"This may be a diplomatic flurry for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," said Nicholas Eberstadt, a North Korea expert at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. "But, like they say, they've been down so long it looks like up now. All of the new diplomacy is with countries that are willing to give assistance, and it is meant to cover them in case the Washington scenario doesn't work out."
But other recent signs of diplomatic activity by Pyongyang have involved its historic ideological patrons. This month the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, paid an unusual visit to the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang, at the invitation of the ambassador, Wan Yongxiang.
In its only explanation of the visit, the official North Korean media said Mr. Kim "expressed thanks for the invitation and conversed with the leading officials of the embassy."
The visit set off speculation among North Korea experts that Mr. Kim was preparing to visit China. It would be his first overseas trip since assuming power after the death of his father, Kim Il Sung, in 1994.
North Korea has also recently signed a new friendship treaty with Russia.
This diplomatic activity comes at a time when Mr. Kim believes that he is in a strong position politically, despite a sharp and prolonged economic decline brought on by the disappearance of its cold war allies from the Soviet bloc, and by unusually harsh weather and crop failures that led to famine.
Last year, the economy is believed to have grown slightly, for the first time in a decade. And in a change from his normal diet of visits to military installations, the 58-year-old North Korean leader began emphasizing visits to factories and food production centers.
Now, many experts say, Mr. Kim appears determined to bring about a rebound from economic collapse. He has apparently decided that one of the keys to doing this is through a controlled opening to the rest of the world. If this is so, there is still considerable divergence among experts over the economic direction to expect from Pyongyang.
Under its Sunshine Policy, South Korea is investing heavily, both in economic and diplomatic terms, in encouraging its neighbor to emulate the gradual evolution toward capitalism undertaken by Communist nations like China and Vietnam.
In a recent interview, President Kim of South Korea said Pyongyang had three options before it: war, which would end disastrously for it; the status quo, which he said has already proven a dead end, and evolutionary change.
"This third option, which I believe is the only viable option, is to follow the example of China and Vietnam," Mr. Kim said. "They have maintained their political systems, while gradually opening up economically. This is what we, and all of our friends and allies, want from North Korea, and we are prepared to help them."
Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company
North Korea pledges "various channels" of talks with US
SEOUL, March 19 (AFP) - North Korea has promised to push ahead with "various channels of talks" on improving ties with the United States despite no progress in their latest negotiations in New York.
"The two sides agreed to continue various channels of talks to debate the pending issues between the DPRK (North Korea) and the US," Pyongyang's foreign ministry said in a statement late Saturday. The two Cold War foes agreed to meet again after their week-long talks on preparations for a high-level North Korean visit to Washington ended last week with little progress.
"The talks had comprehensive and sufficient discussions of the outstanding issues between the two countries," the North's foreign ministry said.
Washington has admitted Pyongyang's demand for making up for the loss of electricity "caused by the long delay in the construction of light water reactors that the US is obliged to deliver," it said.
Under a 1994 agreement, North Korea promised to freeze its suspected nuclear weapons development program in return for taking the safer nuclear reactors from a US-led consortium.
The North, hit by famine and severe energy shortages, has bitterly complained about delays in the reactors' construction.
The New York meeting also covered "removal of the DPRK from the 'list of state sponsors of terrorism'," the foreign ministry said.
North Korea's terrorist state status was imposed by Washington in early 1988 after a South Korean airliner was blown up, apparently by North Korean agents.
The North has demanded it be removed from the list, which analysts say has blocked international financial bodies from providing the country with the cash loans it desperately needs to resurrect its economy.
In a major breakthrough in September last year, Washington agreed to ease some US economic sanctions against the starving state in return for a moratorium on its long-range missile tests.
Since then talks have focused on preparations for a landmark visit to the United States by a senior Pyongyang official to help thaw their decades-old icy relations.
Analysts believe the visit may lead to a detente between the United States and North Korea, which fought each other during the 1950-53 Korean War.
But US Defense Secretary William Cohen has warned that North Korea's hostile military action against South Korea would scuttle US efforts to improve its ties with Pyongyang and help its devastated economy.
The warning came during Cohen's visit to Seoul last week. US and South Korean officials accused North Korea of resuming large scale exercises this winter for the first time in several years.
Copyright (c) 2000 Agence France-Presse Received by NewsEDGE/LAN: 19-03-2000 4:07 AM gmt+1
Japan to spend $36 million for N.Korea food aid
TOKYO, March 17 (Reuters) - Japan said on Friday it will provide the U.N. food agency with 3.84 billion yen ($36 million) for 100,000 tonnes of rice Tokyo has pledged to famine-hit North Korea in an effort to ease tensions with its historic foe.
Japan said last week it would resume food aid through the World Food Programme and hold talks on normalising ties for the first time in more than seven years.
Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono voiced hope that North Korea would respond "sincerely" to Tokyo's efforts to resolve bilateral issues including the alleged abduction of at least 10 Japanese citizens by North Korean agents.
In Beijing earlier this week, Red Cross officials from Japan and North Korea agreed to cooperate on bilateral humanitarian matters that have blocked efforts to establish diplomatic relations, including the kidnapping controversy.
North Korea also agreed to launch a nationwide investigation into the fate of the Japanese nationals Tokyo says the communist state kidnapped in the latter half of this century.
Japan's top government spokesman ruled out the possibility of Tokyo giving additional aid to North Korea soon.
But he said Japan could offer more aid if the two countries meet with progress in normalisation talks set to reopen early next month.
Japan began normalisation talks with North Korea in early 1991, but they collapsed the next year when Pyongyang stormed out after Tokyo accused its agents of kidnapping a Japanese citizen.
Japan, which annexed and colonised the Korean peninsula from 1910-45, established diplomatic ties with capitalist South Korea in 1965, but it has yet to do so with the North. ($1=105.88 Yen)
Copyright (c) 2000 Reuters Received by NewsEDGE/LAN: 17-03-2000 9:34 AM gmt+1
N. Korea Faces Severe Shortages Of Food, Water, Power
Dow Jones Newswires 11-03-00 1247GMT
BEIJING (AP)--Having spent a hard winter without enough fuel or electrical power, North Korea is facing yet another year of drought and hunger, an aid official said Saturday upon her return from the isolated country.
With the approach of spring, traditionally a time of hardship as fall harvests run out and spring crops are just being planted, international aid groups are running short of supplies to feed vulnerable groups such as children and pregnant women, said Kathi Zellweger, director of international cooperation at Caritas Hong Kong.
While aid workers have cited an improvement in the famine over the past year, the situation remains precarious, she said.
"I am worried that if North Korea does not get aid it will be very easy for it to slip back into a major crisis," Zellweger said. "Then it's the vulnerable groups - children, pregnant women and the elderly - who will suffer first."
During Zellweger's weeklong visit, a Caritas aid ship carrying 1,000 tons of peas arrived at North Korea's Nampo port. The food was to be distributed to the needy.
The severe drought has caused shortages of drinking water, crippled the country's hydroelectric power production and threatens to parch spring crops.
"Women were collecting ice from a river, putting it into buckets and melting it for drinking. This of course can create a lot of health problems," Zellweger said.
At least 220,000 North Koreans have died of famine since floods devastated the country's already fragile collective agricultural sector five years ago. The country remains heavily dependent on outside aid to feed its 22 million people.
A year ago an unprecedented survey by U.N. aid groups found malnutrition so widespread that North Korea ranked among the worst-fed countries in the world.
Better weather and more fertilizer helped boost North Korea's harvest to its highest level in five years in 1999, but the country still needs massive outside food aid.
The impact of the famine remains very evident, Zellweger said. Children whose growth has been stunted by malnutrition look far younger than their years and many appear listless and in poor health.
"Very often I am deeply shocked to find out that the child I am speaking to is 14 or 15 years old and I thought I was talking to a nine-year-old," she said.
Copyright (c) 2000 Dow Jones and Company, Inc. Received by NewsEDGE/LAN: 11-03-2000 1:46 PM gmt+1