Seoul (UPI) Feb 13, 2007
Massive energy and economic aid which would be given to North Korea under Tuesday's nuclear deal is a birthday bonanza for supreme leader Kim Jong Il, who has suffered from pressure and sanctions following Pyongyang's nuclear test last October.
South Korean analysts expect the North to use the landmark deal to praise the "brilliant leadership" of the "Great General" who greets his 65th birthday on Friday, noting that it comes as North Korea is gearing up for gala functions for Kim's birthday -- described in the country as "the most festive national holiday."
"The nuclear deal could be considered in North Korea as a diplomatic and economic victory (over the United States)," said Nam Sung-wook, a North Korea professor at Korea University in Seoul.
Under a ground-breaking agreement announced at the end of week-long six-nation talks in Beijing, North Korea will be given up to one million tons of heavy fuel oil and equivalent energy as well as other economic and diplomatic benefits.
The North will receive 50,000 tons of fuel oil when its takes its initial steps to shut down the Yongbyon nuclear facility within 60 days, according to the Initial Actions for the Implementation of the Joint Statement.
The energy-starved nation will receive an additional 950,000 tons of heavy fuel oil or other equivalent as soon as it completes "disabling" the nuclear facilities by an unspecified date.
In addition, the North can ease what it calls security fears because the agreement calls for the United States to start bilateral talks with Pyongyang "aimed at resolving pending bilateral issues and moving toward full diplomatic relations."
North Korea has long called for a non-aggression pact between Washington and Pyongyang and a peace treaty between them, insisting the United States was seeking a war of aggression against the communist country, labeled by U.S. President George W. Bush as part of an "axis of evil."
The North is also set to receive massive food and fertilizer aid from South Korea which has promised to resume shipments to the communist neighbor only if it halts nuclear activities. South Korea suspended aid shipments after the North's July missile tests and the October nuclear test.
The South's food shipments could ease acute food shortages in the North, Seoul officials said. Relief agencies say North Korea is facing a major food crisis this winter as many countries cut assistance after the nuclear test. Still worse, severe flooding during the summer decimated the North's food production.
"With the nuclear deal on hand, the North can celebrate Kim's birthday in a festive mood, describing it as Kim's achievement," a government official said.
"The nuclear deal comes at a time when North Korea has been launching nationwide campaigns to promote public loyalty toward Kim," said Jeung Young-tai, an expert at the Korea Institute for National Unification, Seoul's state-run think tank.
"North Korea needed economic stuff to celebrate Kim's birthday, and this is one of the reasons for the North to strike the nuclear deal," he said.
Kim, who has relied on the cult of personality to rule the hermit kingdom, has provided gifts to ruling elite members and citizens on his birthday, a move to induce public loyalty. Last year, however, Kim reportedly failed to give gifts on his birthday and scaled down his birthday events largely due to U.S.-led financial sanctions on the North.
Earlier, Japan's Mainichi Shimbun newspaper said Kim had given orders to cancel his birthday celebrations for this year, citing economic woes in the wake of U.N.-backed sanctions.
On the back of the nuclear deal, however, North Korea can mark Kim's birthday in a festive mood, analysts say.
"My impression was that North Korean nuclear negotiators were striving to strike a deal as a birthday present for Kim Jong Il," said a source familiar with the six-nation nuclear talks held on Feb. 8-13.
earlier related report
In return, the United States would hold direct talks on diplomatic relations with North Korea -- a member of US President George W. Bush's "axis of evil -- and begin looking at removing it from the US list of terrorist nations.
The deal came after nearly a week of gruelling six-nation talks in Beijing aimed at convincing the secretive Stalinist state, which tested an atomic bomb for the first time in October, to abandon its nuclear weapons.
But reacting to the agreement, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) referred only to the "temporary suspension of the operation of its nuclear facilities." The text of the deal makes no reference to a temporary suspension.
Chinese negotiator Wu Dawei said an "important consensus" had been reached at the talks, which would resume in Beijing on March 19 to verify that the deal is being properly implemented.
"It marks an important and solid step for the six-party talks and a nuclear-free Korean peninsula," Wu told reporters. "This progress has made the talks a success."
Under the deal, North Korea would have 60 days to shut down its main Yongbyon nuclear reactor and allow United Nations nuclear inspectors back into the country.
Meanwhile, the energy-starved regime would receive a first tranche of 50,000 tonnes of fuel oil -- part of an eventual one million tonnes if the accord progresses as spelt out and the North permanently disables its key nuclear facilities.
Chief US envoy Christopher Hill said he was pleased with the outcome but warned there was still a long way to go before the end goal of a denuclearised North Korea was achieved.
"This is only the end of the beginning of the process. We have a lot of work to do," he told reporters.
Previously, North Korea agreed at six-way talks in September 2005 to scrap its atomic plans but then boycotted the negotiations for over a year, and still earlier agreements foundered on disputes between Washington and Pyongyang.
South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan have been holding nearly four years of on-again, off-again talks with the North, one of the poorest and most isolated nations in the world.
In 2002, President Bush lumped North Korea in with Iran and pre-war Iraq as an "axis of evil" linked to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction -- while the North has repeatedly condemned Washington's "hostile policy".
But with the new deal, the two countries will "start bilateral talks aimed at resolving pending bilateral issues and moving toward full diplomatic relations," the joint statement said.
Removing the North from the US list of terrorist sponsors could also clear the way for US firms to do business with North Korea.
According to the new agreement, North Korea would "shut down and seal for the purpose of eventual abandonment" its main Yongbyon nuclear plant and make an accounting of all its nuclear programmes and capabilities.
Included in that list would be plutonium already extracted from fuel rods, which outside analysts have estimated would be enough for the North to make several nuclear weapons.
But the public announcement made no mention of previous US allegations that the North was secretly enriching uranium -- a charge that led to the breakdown of a previous agreement to help Pyongyang build nuclear reactors for energy.
North Korea had repeatedly said it would not make concessions until the United States ended financial sanctions aimed at blocking its access to the international banking system.
There was also no mention of those unilateral sanctions in the joint deal, but Hill told reporters afterwards that United States now intended to resolve the dispute within 30 days.
The joint announcement did say that North Korea would address another tricky bilateral dispute -- its abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s.
But within an hour of the announcement, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said his country would not provide energy aid until "progress" was made on the abductions issue. Japan believes the North is still holding some of its people.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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Washington (UPI) Feb 13, 2007
The prestigious magazine The Economist, not MAD magazine, has a $2.2 billion B2B stealth bomber on its cover this week headlined "Next stop Iran?" In response to my question about how he rated the odds of a bombing campaign against Iran, R. James Woolsey, the former CIA director, hummed an answer for me on the sidewalk as we exited the Metropolitan Club.
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