*** NEWS IN BRIEF
N. Korea Calls on Countries to Clarify Views on 'Nuke Standoff'
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on March 28 called on countries involved in the "nuclear standoff" on the Korean Peninsula to clarify their views on what future actions should be taken that can either lead to war or peace.
In an article carried by Rodong Sinmun, an organ of the ruling Workers' Party of (North) Korea (WPK), Pyongyang said the world at large should not underestimate the dangers of nuclear war.
"DPRK (North Korea)-U.S. nuclear war goes beyond the two countries," it stressed.
The paper monitored in Seoul then claimed that if responsible countries had taken the time to lay down their positions and fulfilled their duties, the current state of tension would not have materialized in the first place.
It added that now is the time that countries come forward with their views on how to handle the impasse that can lead to conflict or peace.
"All parties that want peace should unite and end the plot by U.S. imperialists to start a nuclear war," the paper said. Pyongyang frequently refers to Washington as an imperialistic power.
Related to Rodong Sinmun, North Korean watchers in Seoul said it may be a sign that the socialist country is seeking a peaceful solution to its confrontation with the United States. The North triggered almost universal condemnation for launching a long-range rocket in December, followed by the detonation of its third nuclear device on Feb. 12, that caused the United Nations to pass a resolution condemning the action and ordering fresh sanctions.
The North has responded by ratcheting up tension by warning it will turn Seoul and Washington into a "sea of fire" and threatening to launch pre-emptive nuclear strikes against its enemies.
Local experts speculated that the North's reference to the nuclear impasse involving many countries may be a sign that it wants resumption of six-party talks that effectively broke down in 2009 with little progress being made. The two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia are members in the discussion that first kicked off in 2003.
North Korean Leader Attends KPA 'Information Workers' Meeting
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attended a military 'information workers' meeting on March 28, in a move to highlight the importance the country places on the ideological indoctrination of its soldiers.
The KCNA said the meeting was attended by workers belonging to all branches of the (North) Korean People's Army (KPA), including its rocket force and officers of various military schools.
The workers have similar roles to political commissars found in many socialist countries, with officials tasked to carry out political and ideological education of troops, and to help maintain loyalty of the military to the country's leadership.
The news wire service said Kim called for the improving and strengthening of the ideological work of the country's armed forces.
"He expressed expectation and conviction that all the information workers of the KPA would conduct more dynamic frontline-style information and agitation activities to make the hearts of the KPA soldiers burn with towering resentment at the U.S. and the south Korean puppet group of traitors," the KCNA quoting the leader reported. Kim also said soldiers must have the will to annihilate enemies and have ardent desire for national unification.
The visit by Kim to the meeting is seen by North Korean observers as a move to tighten control over the armed forces as Pyongyang ratchets up tension after it detonated its third nuclear device on Feb. 12 -- a move that caused the United Nations to slap fresh sanctions on the isolationist country.
In addition, Seoul and Washington kicked off two joint military exercises this month in a show of force aimed at deterring aggression from the North.
Related to strengthening of South Korea-U.S. military cooperation that received a boost with the signing of the new Combined Counter-Provocation Plan, the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland issued a statement that claimed the pact is tantamount to declaring a war of invasion.
The committee in charge of carrying out talks with South Korea said the counter-provocation plan raised the likelihood of war breaking out.
It said such measures only solidified the resolve of the North to input the precise coordinates of the U.S. White House and South Korea's presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae into its weapons arsenal.
"The KPA and the people will wipe the U.S. and pro-Washington warmongers from the face of the Earth," it threatened.
The plan reached last Friday makes provisions for the United States to provide reinforcements from within and outside of South Korea in case the North strikes the South as it did in the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in November 2010. The attack left four people dead including two civilians.
Previously, South Korean forces were solely responsible for any action against limited North Korean provocation with the U.S. military coming to Seoul's aid if a full-fledge war erupted.
N.K. Orders Rocket Forces to Be on Standby to Strike U.S. and S. Korean Targets
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered the country's strategic rocket forces to be placed on standby to strike U.S. and South Korean targets, state media reported on March 29, after two B-2 stealth bombers conducted first-ever operational drills over the Korean Peninsula.
The KCNA said, in an English dispatch, "(Kim) convened an urgent operation meeting on the (North) Korean People's Army's Strategic Rocket Force's performance of duty for firepower strike at the Supreme Command at 00:30 March 29.
"He finally signed the plan on technical preparations of strategic rockets, ordering them to be on standby to fire so that they may strike any time the U.S. mainland, its military bases in the operational theaters in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in south Korea," the report said.
It added that Kim pointed out that by letting B-2s make sorties over the South, the U.S. once again showed its hostile intent against the North and claimed Washington's provocation has entered a reckless level, "going beyond the phase of threat and blackmail."
The KCNA said that Kim viewed the B-2 bombing drills as more than simple demonstration of force in reaction to the tough stance by North Korea, but an ultimatum that Washington will ignite a nuclear war at any cost.
"Kim declared the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK (North Korea) would react to the U.S. nuclear blackmail with merciless nuclear attack, and war of aggression with an all-out war of justice (of its own)," the KCNA said.
Meanwhile, the swift reporting of a middle of the night emergency meeting of senior commanders is unusual and may reflect the level of intimidation felt by Pyongyang with the appearance of the B-2s over South Korea.
The U.S. Air Force's nuclear-capable stealth bombers carried out their bombing drill over the Korean Peninsula, hitting Jik Islet off Gunsan with bombs on March 28. The move is seen as a clear message of strong warning to Pyongyang, which has recently threatened a pre-emptive nuclear attack on the U.S. and South Korea.
The North ratcheted up tension by launching a long-range rocket late last year and by detonating its third nuclear device on Feb. 12, in the face of strong opposition from the international community.
The planes took off from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri on March 27 and flew over 10,000 kilometers using airborne refueling to reach South Korea the following day. The bombers can each carry up to 23 tons or various guided bombs and are designed to penetrate heavily defended air space to strike key targets such as command and control facilities without being detected by radar.
North Korea Holds Massive Rally Amid Tensions
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea held a massive rally in Pyongyang as its leader Kim Jong-un put the country's rocket forces on standby for a possible strike against the United States and its military targets, state media said on March 29.
It was the first rally since North Korea put its missile and artillery units into a combat ready posture in response to what it claims is a nuclear threat from the U.S.
Mun Kyong-duk, a senior official in Pyongyang, renewed his country's latest threat to strike the U.S. and its military bases in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in South Korea, according to the North's state television monitored in Seoul.
North Korea frequently organizes massive rallies to demonstrate its unity to the outside world in times of crisis.
The latest rally comes amid rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula following the North's rocket launch and the Feb. 12 nuclear test.
"(Kim) finally signed the plan on technical preparations of strategic rockets, ordering them to be on standby to fire so that they may strike any time the U.S. mainland, its military bases in the operational theaters in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in South Korea," the North's official KCNA said.
Kim's move came as the U.S. sent nuclear-capable stealth bombers to South Korea for bombing drills in the latest show of force against North Korea.
N. Korea Says Inter-Korean Relations Enter into War Phase
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea said on March 30 that inter-Korean relations have entered into a state of war and all cross-border issues will be dealt with in a wartime manner, the latest in a near-daily series of strident threats against the South in recent weeks.
The warning came a day after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un put strategic rocket units on standby, threatening to strike targets in South Korea, the U.S. mainland, and its military bases in Hawaii and Guam, in anger after nuclear-capable U.S. B-2 stealth bombers participated in joint military drills in the South.
"From this moment, the North-South relations will be put at the state of war, and all the issues arousing between the North and the South will be dealt with according to the wartime regulations," the North said in a special statement issued by the country's government, parties and other organizations, according to the KCNA.
"The state of neither peace nor war has ended on the Korean Peninsula," it said.
The socialist nation also said it will "immediately punish any slightest provocation hurting its dignity and sovereignty with resolute and merciless physical actions without any prior notice."
Pyongyang has sharply ratcheted up belligerent rhetoric in recent weeks with repeated war threats against the South in anger over joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States as well as a new U.N. Security Council resolution adopted for its third nuclear test.
In the March 30 statement, the North denounced the mobilization of the U.S stealth bombers for the exercise as "an unpardonable and heinous provocation, and an open challenge."
"If the U.S. and the South Korean puppet group perpetrate a military provocation for igniting a war against the DPRK (North Korea) in any area, including the five islands in the West Sea of Korea or in the area along the Military Demarcation Line, it will not be limited to a local war but develop into an all-out war, a nuclear war," the North said in the statement.
The South's defense ministry denounced the recent series of menacing rhetoric by the North as unacceptable threats that hurt peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, and pledged to thoroughly punish Pyongyang in the event of provocations.
It also said this week's exercises involving stealth bombers were defensive in nature.
"Our military is maintaining full preparedness to leave no blind point in safeguarding the lives and safety of the people," the ministry said in a statement.
Speaking at a workshop for senior officials from the government, the presidential office and the ruling Saenuri Party, Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said he does not rule out the possibility of an "armed provocation" from the North.
"If provoked, we will mobilize not only all of our military strength but also that of the U.S. mainland and suppress (the North) in a single stroke," the minister was quoted as saying by multiple participants at the workshop.
Despite harsh threats, the North is showing no unusual military moves, a military source said.
In Washington, the White House said it takes the North's warning seriously.
"We've seen reports of a new and unconstructive statement from North Korea," said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, according to AFP. "We take these threats seriously and remain in close contact with our South Korean allies."
Hayden said the North's threat follows a pattern of bellicose rhetoric and threats. "We continue to take additional measures against the North Korean threat, including our plan to increase the U.S. ground-based interceptors and early warning and tracking radar," she said.
N. Korea Military Budget Accounts for 16 Pct of Total Outlays in 2013
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is expected to spend 16 percent of its budget on national defense in 2013, up 0.2 percentage point from the year before, the country's state media said on April 2.
According to Rodong Sinmun, an organ of the North's ruling Workers' Party, Finance Minister Choe Kwang-jin reported to a meeting of the Supreme People's Assembly in Pyongyang on April 1 that the money is needed to effectively cope with "indiscriminate" provocations by the United States and its followers.
The paper, however, did not disclose the exact size of the defense budget, although South Korea's unification ministry speculated that last year's military budget totaled US$910 million.
The proportion of the spending plan compared to the overall budget, is the highest tallied since 1998, according to South Korean analysts.
From 1998 through 2002, the North is estimated to have spent 14.4 percent to 14.5 percent of its annual budget on defense, with numbers going up and being fixed at 15.8 percent in the 2007-2012 period, they said.
North Korean watchers in Seoul said that the money may be needed to expand the country's nuclear arsenal and long-range missile systems.
The socialist country detonated three nuclear devices in 2006, 2009 and early this year, and successfully launched a long-range rocket that can reach the western United States.
N. Korea Says Will Restart Its 5 Megawatt Graphite Moderated Reactor
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on April 2 said it plans to restart its 5 megawatt nuclear reactor that was shut down under an agreement reached at the six-party talks in 2007, a move that will allow the North to extract plutonium from spent fuel rods.
The (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), citing a spokesman for the General Department of Atomic Energy, said measures will be taken to "adjust and alter the use of existing nuclear facilities" so operations of the graphite moderated reactor in Yongbyon can resume.
The spokesman did not say when the reactor will be restarted, but claimed "work will be put into practice without delay." All nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, including the uranium enrichment plant as well as the reactor, will be refurbished as part of resuming operations, he elaborated.
Under the aid-for-denuclearization accord, Pyongyang agreed to mothball the reactor and eventually dismantle it but changed its mind after six-party countries did not provide the kind of energy assistance it wanted. It started reprocessing the 8,000 fuel rods stored at the site in late 2009.
The small reactor can be used to produce spent fuel rods that can be made into weapons-grade plutonium. The North probably used plutonium as fissile material for its first and second nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, while experts are not sure if plutonium or uranium was used in the latest detonation conducted on Feb. 12. The North is known to have the capability to make nuclear weapons using enriched uranium.
The official added that the measures are being taken in accordance with the decision made by the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of (North) Korea (WPK) in March, which calls for self-sufficiency in the country's nuclear power industry. Such a development can support economic growth and bolster its atomic weapons capability.
The socialist country suffers from acute power shortages, while it has insisted that it can give up its nuclear arsenal only if other countries, including the United States, engage in worldwide disarmament talks.
Shortly after the North's announcement, South Korea's foreign ministry condemned the move as "highly regrettable" and called for Pyongyang to comply with its past nuclear disarmament pledges.
"I was aware of the North's report. If it is true, it would be highly regrettable," foreign ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young told reporters.
"North Korea must live up to its promises it made in the past and achieve denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula," Cho said, adding that his government is closely watching developments in North Korea.
Beijing also expressed regret over the North's announcement. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said in a regular news briefing that China has constantly advocated denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and maintaining peace and stability in the peninsula and northeast Asia.
North Korea Vows Actual Military Actions against Washington
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Adding to weeks-long bellicose rhetoric, North Korea's military announced on April 3 that it would take a series of military actions against the United States.
In a statement, the General Staff of the (North) Korean People's Army (KPA) said it would "take a series of strong, actual military countermeasures as the Supreme Command solemnly declared at home and abroad."
It added it is formally notifying the White House and the Pentagon that "reckless operations" involving cutting-edge nuclear weapons have been finally approved.
It did not specify what measures it will take or the timing.
It was condemning the U.S. deployment of advanced weapons, including B-52 and B-2 bombers, F-22 fighters, a nuclear-powered submarine and destroyer, to the Korean Peninsula region for annual joint military drills with South Korea.
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