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Cablegate: Seoul - Press Bulletin; December 31, 2009

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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 SEOUL 002027

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV MARR ECON KPAO KS US
SUBJECT: SEOUL - PRESS BULLETIN; December 31, 2009

TOP HEADLINES
-------------

Chosun Ilbo, Hankook Ilbo, All TVs
Revised Labor Union Bill Passed by National Assembly Environment and
Labor Committee

JoongAng Ilbo
KB Outside Directors Ask KB Chairman Designate
Kang Chung-won to Resign

Dong-a Ilbo
Ruling Party Moving to Railroad Budget Proposal

Hankyoreh Shinmun, Segye Ilbo, Seoul Shinmun
Yongsan Fire Dispute Settled After 345 Days
Prime Minister Chung: "I Feel Responsible
for the Yongsan Tragedy"

DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
----------------------

Knowledge Economy Minister Choi Kyung-hwan, in a Dec. 30 meeting
with ruling Grand National Party (GNP) lawmakers, said that the
current ROK-U.S. Atomic Energy Agreement is excessive in terms of
controlling the reprocessing (of nuclear fuel), a remark seen as
intended to raise the need for the ROK to restore its "peaceful
nuclear sovereignty." (Chosun)

The U.S. Embassy in Seoul hung a sign bearing season's greetings
from President Barack Obama yesterday on its facade in Gwanghwamun,
central Seoul. The placard reads, "Let us reach for the world that
ought to be," in English and Korean and "Happy New Year" in Korean.
(Chosun, JoongAng, Seoul, Yonhap, Newsis)

Former U.S. Figure Skating Champion Michelle Kwan will visit Seoul
early next month as an American public diplomacy envoy. (KBS)


INTERNATIONAL NEWS
------------------

State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly said in a Dec. 29 statement:
"The DPRK (North Korean) government has confirmed it is holding a
U.S. citizen pending an investigation. We will continue to work
through the Swedish Embassy, our protecting power in Pyongyang, to
seek consular access to this American citizen." (JoongAng, Segye)

According to Radio Free Asia, the USG is talking with North Korea
through the New York Channel to resolve the issue of the detained
U.S. citizen. (JoongAng, Segye)


MEDIA ANALYSIS
--------------

-N. Korea
---------
The ROK media continues to follow developments regarding the
American citizen being held in North Korea for illegally entering
the country.

Right-of-center JoongAng Ilbo and conservative Segye Ilbo quoted
State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly as saying in a Dec. 29
statement: "The DPRK (North Korean) government has confirmed it is
holding a U.S. citizen pending an investigation. We will continue
to work through the Swedish Embassy, our protecting power in
Pyongyang, to seek consular access to this American citizen."
JoongAng headlined its article: "U.S. Seeking Access to Robert Park
Held in N. Korea."

These newspapers also ran a Dec. 30 Radio Free Asia report that the
USG is holding talks with North Korea through the New York Channel

SEOUL 00002027 002 OF 003


to resolve the issue of the detained U.S. citizen.


FEATURES
---------

SEOUL WANTS 'SOVEREIGNTY' IN PEACEFUL NUCLEAR DEVELOPMENT
(Chosun Ilbo, December 31, Pages 1 and 6)

By Reporters Lim Min-hyuk and Shin Eun-jin

The ROK should seek "peaceful nuclear sovereignty," Minister of
Knowledge Economy Choi Kyung-hwan suggested Wednesday, in order to
emancipate itself from tight U.S. limits on what it can and cannot
do.

Choi was speaking at a meeting at the National Assembly that was
hosted by Grand National Party lawmakers who are close to President
Lee Myung-bak. The meeting came after the United Arab Emirates
signed a landmark order for a nuclear power plant with a Korean-led
consortium. The minister accompanied Lee on his visit to the UAE to
give the deal the final push last week.

"Korea's current know-how of nuclear processes is incomplete, and
that should improve in the future," Choi said. He agreed that
control of raw materials and reprocessing provisions in the
Korea-U.S. Atomic Energy Agreement are "excessive."

The country could assert its sovereignty by reclaiming the right to
reprocess spent fuel rods, which is restricted by the bilateral
agreement. The other two areas are mining and enrichment of
uranium, and making and use of nuclear fuel.

By describing the limits as "excessive," the minister drew attention
to the gravity of the problem since the country is not permitted to
recycle nuclear waste, even though the KRW 47 trillion (US$1=W1,165)
contract with the UAE signals global confidence in the ROK's ability
to handle the task.

There were already calls in June to revise the nuclear energy
agreement, at the time prompted by North Korea's nuclear arms
development, but the government has until now kept out of the issue.
The power plant contract appears to have boosted efforts to seek a
revision of the agreement, which expires in 2014.

Concluded in the 1970s, the agreement reflects U.S. worries over
nuclear arms proliferation in prohibiting Seoul from reprocessing
spent nuclear fuel, since weapons-grade plutonium is a by-product of
reprocessing.

But a government official said the provision makes no sense since
Seoul sees the reprocessing purely from an industrial point of view
and has no plans for nuclear armament. "We've tried to win
recognition for our pure approach to peaceful use of nuclear power
over the last 20-odd years and we feel the time has come for the
international community to recognize these efforts."

Currently, more than 10,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel from 20
nuclear power plants in Gori, Wolseong, Yeonggwang and Uljin is
stored at secure facilities. But they will be full by about 2016,
leaving Korea little option but to reprocess it.

Reprocessing would allow the country to recycle 94.4 percent of the
waste as an energy source, reducing nuclear waste to a negligible
5.6 percent. "For Korea, the issue of reprocessing is an urgent
economic matter," the official said.

The government planned to start renegotiating the agreement with the
U.S. this year, but it seems the U.S. is not ready. A government
source said U.S. government agencies "are very busy preparing for a
nuclear security summit in April at the initiative of U.S. President
Barack Obama, and because of this, the U.S. has not even decided
who'll lead the U.S. delegation to negotiations" with Seoul.


SEOUL 00002027 003 OF 003


There are fears that Washington is stalling. But a senior government
official said there is no great hurry. "We're supposed to revise
the bilateral nuclear energy agreement by 2014, and as long as the
two countries are conducting working-level talks, we think we can
start full-fledged negotiations in the first half of next year."

(This is a translation provided by the newspaper, and it is
identical to the Korean version.)

STEPHENS

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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