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Cablegate: Press Bulletin - December 17, 2008

O 170646Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2668
USDOC WASHDC 7905
DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
CIA WASHINGTON DC//DDI/OEA//
USCINCPAC HONOLULU HI//FPA//
SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
DIA WASHINGTON DC//DB-Z//

UNCLAS SEOUL 002423


DEPT FOR EAP/K, EAP/PD, INR/EAP/K AND INR/IL/P
TREASURY FOR OASIA/WINGLE
USDOC FOR 4430/IEP/OPB/EAP/WGOLICKE
STATE PASS USDA ELECTRONICALLY FOR FAS/ITP
STATE PASS DOL/ILAB SUDHA HALEY
STATE PASS USTR FOR IVES/WEISEL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO PGOV PREL MARR ECON KS US
SUBJECT: PRESS BULLETIN - December 17, 2008

Features

1. U.S. Congressional Delegation: "If the ROK Ratifies the KORUS
FTA, the U.S. Congress Will Also Make Efforts to Do So"
(JoongAng Ilbo, December 17, 2008, Page 6)
2. "Line" in Front of U.S. Embassy Has Disappeared, but No Tourism
"Boom" Yet
(Munhwa Ilbo, December 16, 2008, Page 10; Excerpts)
3. Visa-Free U.S. Travel Increases Slightly... Total Number of
Travelers Decreases
(Munhwa Ilbo, December 16, 2008, Page 10)


Top Headlines

Chosun Ilbo, Hankook Ilbo, Hankyoreh Shinmun, Segye Ilbo, Seoul
Shinmun, All TVs
Senior Education and Tax Officials Offer to Resign En Masse,
Prompting Talk that an Extensive Reshuffle of
High-level Officials may be on the Way

JoongAng Ilbo
ROKG Set to Reshuffle Senior Officials Viewed
as "Interfering with Government Policies"

Dong-a Ilbo
ROKG Announces 2009 Economic Management Plan Focusing on Enhancing
Social Safety Net to Protect Low-income Citizens


Domestic Developments

1. Ruling Grand National Party (GNP) Rep. Kim Hak-song, at a Dec. 16
security forum organized by the state-run Korea Institute for
Defense Analyses, said that if North Korea, which is believed to
have produced up to 40 kilograms of plutonium, has succeeded in
developing small-size nuclear bombs, the North could have produced
more than 20 atomic bombs, because it takes 2-3 kilograms of
plutonium to make a small nuclear weapon. (JoongAng, Segye)

2. A U.S. congressional delegation allegedly said during a Dec. 16
meeting in Seoul with ruling GNP lawmakers that if the ROK ratifies
the KORUS FTA, the U.S. Congress will make efforts to do so.
(JoongAng)

3. A Korean-language version of the U.S. Electronic System for
Travel Authorization (ESTA) Web site, from which Korean travelers
must apply for and receive an approval to use the Visa Waiver
Program before visiting the U.S., will be available beginning today.
Mark Strege, the Deputy Consul General at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul,
made this remark during a Dec. 16 Caf USA Web chat. (Dong-a, MBC,
YTN, Financial News)


International News

1. According to the Dec. 15 issue of The Washington Post, there is a
possibility that Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and
Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill might be appointed as "Special
Envoy for the Region" under the incoming Obama Administration.
(Dong-a)

2. "Will the Suspension of Heavy Fuel Oil Aid to North Korea Work?:"
Chosun Ilbo commented in an inside-page article that suspending a
shipment of 395,000 tons of heavy fuel oil, the remaining balance
from one million tons promised to North Korea under the Six-Party
Talks, will deal a serious blow to the energy-strapped North, given
that the remaining amount accounts for more than 10 percent of the
North's total annual electricity output.


Media Analysis

Six-Party Talks/ North Korea
Conservative Chosun Ilbo carried an inside-page report saying that
the idea of suspending fuel aid to North Korea, which appears to be
gaining ground in the wake of the collapse of the Six-Party Talks,
may be the only way to pressure North Korea since the U.S. removed
it from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. Chosun went on to
say that some 395,000 tons of heavy fuel oil that had been promised
to North Korea remain to be shipped. The amount would account for
over 10 percent of the 21.5 billion kWh North Korea produces a year.
Chosun quoted an ROKG official as saying: "That is enough to put
pressure on North Korea, which is undergoing a serious shortage of
energy during the winter." Left-leaning Hankyoreh Shinmun,
meanwhile, cited China as expressing its intention to continue
providing fuel aid to North Korea by saying yesterday: "Even though
the latest round of the Six-Party Talks failed to adopt a
verification protocol, the economic and energy aid to North Korea
has been provided as a reward for the North's nuclear disablement."

Conservative Dong-a Ilbo noted a Dec. 15 Washington Post report
saying that there is a possibility that Assistant Secretary of State
for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill might be
appointed as "Special Envoy for the Region" under the incoming Obama
Administration. Even if appointed to the post, the report notes
that Mr. Hill still would be directly involved with the North Korean
nuclear issue.

Right-of-center JoongAng Ilbo and conservative Segye Ilbo ran a
story related to ruling Grand National Party (GNP) Rep. Kim
Hak-song's claim at a Dec. 16 security forum organized by the
state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analysis that: "(i)f North
Korea, which is believed to have produced up to 40 kilograms of
plutonium, has succeeded in developing small-size nuclear bombs, the
North could have produced more than 20 atomic bombs, because it
takes 2-3 kilograms of plutonium to make a small nuclear weapon."


Features

U.S. Congressional Delegation: "If the ROK Ratifies the KORUS FTA,
the U.S. Congress Will Also Make Efforts to Do So"
(JoongAng Ilbo, December 17, 2008, Page 6)

By Reporter Seon Seung-hye

- Rep. Hong Jung-wook of the Grand National Party (GNP): "When I
went to the U.S., I got the impression that the ROK is not a top
priority for U.S. policies."

- U.S. Congressman Leonard Boswell: "We are now in a transition
period, facing economic difficulties, and even waging war. We
sometimes cannot pay attention to all other issues. However, the
delegation here thinks very positively of the ROK-U.S. Free Trade
Agreement (FTA)."

- GNP Rep. Chung OK-im: "The ROK will ratify the FTA according to
legal procedures. We hope that the U.S. will do so, too."

- U.S. Congressman Steve Kagen: "If the ROK ratifies the deal, it
will place much heavier responsibility on the U.S. After a U.S.
Secretary of State and other officials are appointed, they go
through a Senate hearing, and if the ROK ratifies the FTA before
that, the focus of the hearing will be placed on the FTA."

During a December 16 invitational gathering of the U.S.
Congressional delegation at the National Assembly, participants had
a heated debate about the KORUS FTA. GNP Rep. Koo Sang-chan, who
hosted the event, even joked, "Since (our comments) are too harsh,
you may not be comfortable at the table." During the discussion,
the ROK side pressed the U.S. for an answer and the U.S. asked for
understanding on several occasions.

All U.S. lawmakers who attended the meeting this day said, "The
KORUS FTA will be ratified soon, and we will make an effort for
that." Rep. Henry Cuellar noted, "After Obama takes office, there
will be some progress in (breaking) the current deadlock," adding,
"It is only a matter of timing and domestic politics, and the U.S.
cannot turn its back and leave." Rep. Robert B. Goodlatte also
stated, "I heard that progress on the U.S. beef issue was made due
to consideration of the FTA ratification. In response to it, we
will also try to get the FTA ratified."

While strongly asking the U.S. to approve the FTA, ROK lawmakers
dismissed the possibility of renegotiation of the deal. GNP Rep.
Lee Kye-jin said, "Since the ROK's food self-sufficiency rate was
just 26 percent, it is inevitable to import food from agricultural
powerhouses, such as the U.S. Nevertheless, if (the U.S.) intends
to pour its agricultural and livestock products into a small nation
like the ROK, it could be seen as a threat." Rep. Park Sun-young of
the Liberty Forward Party also explained, "While the U.S. sharply
expanded the amount of its agricultural subsidy and the number of
subsidy recipients, that is not the case in the ROK, and so (the

ROK's agricultural industry) is in dire straits," adding, "Timing
and domestic politics are also variables in the ROK."

Rep. Koo Sang-chan said, "The U.S. Embassy first asked us to have
open and candid discussions. Thanks to this, the debate was
productive." The meeting was attended by Reps. Koo, Shin Sung-beom,
Yoo Ki-joon, Lee Kye-jin, Lee Hye-hoon, Chung Ok-im, Hong Jung-wook,
and Hwang Young-chul (from the Grand National Party) and Rep. Park
Young-sun (from the Liberty Forward Party). The U.S. Congressional
delegation included five members of the House Committee on
Agriculture, including Leonard Boswell, Chairman of the House
Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry.


"Line" in Front of U.S. Embassy Has Disappeared, but No Tourism
"Boom" Yet
(Munhwa Ilbo, December 16, 2008, Page 10; Excerpts)

By Reporters Lee Yong-kwon, Lim Jung-hwan, Chae Hyun-sik and Kang
Beo-deul

Observers still point out that Koreans are not fully informed of the
VWP. Many people do not know that before traveling to the U.S.
under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), they need to get a permit in
advance and that only e-passport holders are allowed to travel
without a visa. An official of Hana Tour said, "Some of the
long-term travelers who must have a U.S. visa demand visa-free
travel" adding, "Since the Korean-language Web site is not provided
yet, many people are having difficulty."


Visa-Free U.S. Travel Increases Slightly... Total Number of
Travelers Decreases
(Munhwa Ilbo, December 16, 2008, Page 10)

By Washington Correspondent Choi Hyung-doo

After the ROK joined the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP), it became
much easier for ROK travelers to visit the U.S., but due to the high
exchange rate and economic difficulties, the total number of
travelers has been decreasing. ROK airliners and travel agencies in
the U.S. said on December 16 that the proportion of travelers who
got the USG's entry permit on the Internet over the past month
increased gradually, but the total number of travelers (to the U.S.)
was found to be smaller than usual.

The number of passengers who flew Korean Air to Washington last
month was found to be smaller than usual. Out of Koreans who flew
Korean Air to New York, the number of VWP travelers has increased an
average of 11. 6 people per day to 337 people on December 15. A
total of 103 visa-free travelers have flown Asiana Airlines to New
York. VWP travelers who flew Korean Air to New York numbered 125 in
November, but it has risen to 212 as of December 15. The number of
VWP travelers who flew Asiana Airlines to New York increased from 34
in November to 69 by December 14.

According to Korean Air, which operates two flights a day between
Incheon and New York, the number of VWP travelers remained in single
digit in November, but it increased to about ten this month, and on
December 15, 30 people, the largest number in December, boarded an
airplane under the VWP. Ha Min-ki, head of the San Francisco branch
of Korean Air, said, "The number of VWP travelers is about five to
six per flight, but it does not have a big impact on the total
number of passengers." Suh Young-bin, head of the San Francisco
branch of Asiana Airlines, noted, "Although we plan to increase the
number of flights to San Francisco starting from the end of
December, it is difficult to say that the VWP is making any
difference yet probably because of the economic downturn."

Kevin Lim, an official of Samho Tourism in Los Angeles, said,
"Although the total number of Korean travelers to the U.S. is
smaller than last year, the number of VWP travelers is increasing
steadily. In particular, out of Koreans who visit the western part
of the U.S., about 35 percent travel under the VWP." As the ROK's
participation into the VWP made it easier for young females to
travel to the U.S., the Korean-American communities in the U.S. are
concerned that the number of young women working in the sex industry
may increase.


Stephens

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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