Cablegate: Seoul - Press Bulletin; February 16, 2010
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SUBJECT: SEOUL - PRESS BULLETIN; FEBRUARY 16, 2010
Ruling GNP Begins Work to Develop Unified Position
on Sejong City Revision
N. Korea to Appoint New Ambassador to China
for First Time in 10 Years
Dong-a Ilbo, All TVs
ROK Speed Skater Lee Seung-hoon Surprises with 5,000-Meter Silver;
Lee Becomes First Asian to Win Olympic Medal
in Long Track Speed Skating
Signs of Full-blown Conflict on Sejong City among Ruling GNP
Lawmakers Loyal to President, Pro-Park Geun-hye GNP Lawmakers, and
Survey of100 Economic Experts: "What is Most Important Task for Next
Bank of Korea Governor is to Secure Central Bank's Independence on
Today Marks First Anniversary of
Death of Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan
ROK to Take Lead in Launching "Super Applications Store"
As North Korea's Chief Nuclear Negotiator Kim Kye-gwan returned home
on Feb. 13 after a visit to China, relevant countries are expected
to step up efforts to coordinate their positions on resuming the
Six-Party Talks. (JoongAng)
According to a source knowledgeable about North Korean affairs,
China has decided to invest about $10 billion in North Korea, and
the decision was made when senior Chinese Envoy Wang Jiarui visited
Pyongyang last week. (Hankook, Segye, Seoul, KBS, Pressian, DailyNK)
Most newspapers on Saturday (Feb. 13) carried reports quoting a
diplomatic source in Beijing as saying on Feb. 12 that North Korea's
Chief Nuclear Negotiator Kim Kye-gwn is seeking a visit to the U.S.
in March for bilateral talks and that Kim conveyed this intention to
Chinese officials during his recent visit to Beijing.
Conservative Dong-a Ilbo, in a related development, wrote in the
headline: "Kim Kye-gwan's Visit to U.S. Is Being Delayed by U.S.'s
Procrastination in Authorizing His Visa." Its sub-heading read:
"U.S. Likely to Demand N. Korea's Fundamental Change in Position on
Terms to Return to Six-Party Talks."
Right-of-center JoongAng Ilbo, meanwhile, expected that relevant
countries will step up efforts to coordinate their positions on
resuming the Six-Party Talks, since the chief North Korean nuclear
negotiator has returned to Pyongyang after a five-day visit to
Citing a source knowledgeable about North Korean affairs, most ROK
media reported that North Korea has succeeded in attracting Chinese
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investment worth $10 billion, which amounts to nearly 70 percent of
its gross domestic product estimated at $15 billion. According to
media reports, the source said that in-depth discussions were held
on the Chinese investment when senior Chinese Envoy Wang Jiarui
visited Pyongyang last week.
Moderate Hankook Ilbo analyzed that this Chinese investment may be
an "inducement" to draw North Korea back to the Six-Party Talks and
that the countries in the Six-Party Talks, including the U.S., may
have given tacit approval to the Chinese investment.
Right-of-center JoongAng Ilbo today gave front-page play to a report
quoting multiple sources in Beijing as saying yesterday that North
Korea will replace its ambassador to China for the first time in 10
years and will also change the deputy chief of mission. According
to the report, in particular, the current vice foreign
minister-level ambassador will be replaced by a (lower ranking)
director general-level diplomat, a move that breaks with the North's
"60-year-long practice" of appointing a vice foreign minister-level
official to the post.
JoongAng speculated that this appointment may be intended to promote
a generational change to prepare for the resumption of the Six-Party
Talks or may be an expression of the North's discontent with China's
insufficient aid to North Korea.
ROK MUST BE ALLOWED TO REPROCESS SPENT NUCLEAR FUEL
(Chosun Ilbo, February 16, Page 31)
U.S. Ambassador to the ROK Kathleen Stephens said in a recent
interview that the reprocessing of spent fuel rods from ROK nuclear
reactors was a pending issue in upcoming talks to revise the
ROK-U.S. Atomic Energy Agreement and promised to consider Seoul's
aspirations to reprocess nuclear fuel as well as international
concerns over proliferation. Seoul and Washington are in talks to
revise the agreement, which was signed in 1973 and expires in March
The main sticking point in the talks is whether to let the ROK
reprocess spent fuel rods. U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms
Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher last year said
Washington sees no need to revise the Soul-Washington nuclear
cooperation agreement to allow the ROK reprocess nuclear fuel, and
the U.S. Senate voiced strong suspicion over the country's
intentions. The latest comments by Stephens suggests that
Washington may change its stance.
Operating 20 nuclear power plants, the ROK ranks among the world's
top five countries when it comes to the use of nuclear energy. Each
year, the ROK uses 4,000 tons of uranium as energy, which leads to
around 700 tons of spent fuel rods. Some 10,000 tons of spent rods
from nuclear plants in Gori, Wolseong, Yeonggwang and Uljin have
been stored in temporary water tanks, and there will be no room left
by 2016. When reprocessed, 94 percent of the spent fuel rods can be
reused, while the amount of waste materials will decrease to 1/10 of
the original amount. If the ROK gains the ability to reprocess its
own spent rods, it will be able to reduce the amount of radioactive
waste it has to store and boost the efficiency of its nuclear power
But the U.S. has blocked the ROK's ability to (reprocess fuel rods)
out of f ear that Seoul could use the plutonium to produce nuclear
weapons. The suspicion stems from the ROK's s-e-c-r-e-t attempt
back in the 1970s to develop its own nuclear bomb, plus growing
calls here to achieve "nuclear self-sufficiency" in the face of the
North Korean threat.
But after 15 years of tortuous talks to dismantle North Korea's
nuclear weapons program and watching the Stalinist country grow
poorer and more isolated from the international community due to its
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nuclear ambitions, there is very little chance that the ROK would
want to walk down that path. Yet the ROK's alliance with the U.S.
could come under strain if Washington stubbornly insists on blocking
the ROK from reprocessing. The ROK-U.S. Atomic Energy Agreement
must be revised so that the ROK has the ability to reprocess spent
fuel rods for peaceful purposes.
(This is a translation provided by the newspaper, and it is
identical to the Korean version.)
CAMPBELL SAYS ROK-U.S. RELATIONS HAVE NEVER BEEN BETTER THAN NOW
(JoongAng Ilbo, February 16, Page 6)
By Reporter Kang Chan-ho
When asked to describe the current ROK-U.S. relations, U.S.
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt
Campbell, who visited the ROK from February 2 to 4, said that they
have never been better than now. Campbell once depicted the
ROK-U.S. relations of February 2006 under former President Roh
Moo-hyun as "king and queen who are about to be divorced." U.S.
Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg reportedly made similar
remarks to ROK officials who visited the U.S. this year. ROK
Ambassador to the U.S. Han Duck-soo, who came to the ROK to attend a
meeting of overseas diplomatic mission chiefs, said during a
February 11 briefing that Washington thinks that the current
ROK-U.S. relations are the best they've ever been. According to ROK
diplomatic sources, immediately after his tour to the ROK, China and
Japan in November last year, President Obama said that the visit to
the ROK was his favorite.
ROK officials believe that President Obama was impressed by
President Lee's "frank" diplomacy. During his meeting with
President Obama on November 19, President Lee said, "When I was a
child, I eagerly lined up to get old clothes from U.S. missionaries.
But I had to turn back because they ran out so quickly. The ROK,
which was in such difficult straits, has developed to this (great)
extent. " President Lee reportedly said that, even though the U.S.
suffers a trade deficit with the ROK, the deficit seems to be offset
by (a surplus generated by) Korean students studying in the U.S. and
travel income from Koreans. Regarding changes in the Northeast Asia
situation such as strained U.S.-Japan relations, President Lee also
emphasized that the ROK will maintain its good friendship with the
U.S. According to an (ROK) diplomatic source, President Obama
showed great empathy toward President Lee who reaffirmed his
unchanging friendship by giving a frank account of his difficult
past and describing the trade imbalance between the ROK and the U.S.
with specific numbers.
In particular, when President Obama asked about the situation in the
ROK regarding "education reform," one of his key concerns, President
Lee said something to the effect: "My mother was also very
enthusiastic (about education,) but these days, Korean parents'
enthusiasm for education is enormous," adding, "Since they are
particularly asking for more native English instructors to improve
their children's command of English, we are struggling to meet the
After listening to his answer, sources said, President Obama was
obviously deeply impressed by the entire nation's enthusiasm for
education. Since returning home, President Obama has praised the
ROK's enthusiasm for education more than five times. ROKG officials
noted, "Since President Lee spoke candidly of education based on his
personal story, rather than talking about abstract things, President
Obama developed a strong trust in President Lee."
U.S. AMBASSADOR STEPHENS SAYS (U.S.) WILL REFLECT ROK'S POSITION IN
REVISING ATOMIC ENERGY AGREEMENT
(Chosun Ilbo, February 13, Front page)
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By Reporters Kang In-sun and Cheong Wu-sang
U.S. Ambassador to the ROK Kathleen Stephens said on February 12
that when the U.S. and the ROK revise their bilateral Atomic Energy
Agreement which expires in 2014, they will "move towards finding an
agreement," considering the ROK's "aspirations" and international
concerns over nuclear proliferation.
In an exclusive interview with Chosun Ilbo, Ambassador Stephens
said, "The U.S. recognizes the growing importance of civilian use of
nuclear energy. At the same time, we are very mindful of addressing
proliferation concerns. That is the kind of approach we take."
Stephens noted that the U.S. will consider changes that have
occurred "in the intervening years since (both countries) first made
the agreement." The ROK-U.S. Atomic Energy Agreement, which was
signed in 1965 and amended in 1973, will expire March 2014.
(Some) people in ROK's political and academic circles have recently
argued that, when revising the (ROK-U.S. Atomic Energy) Agreement,
the ROK should ensure that it will be able to reprocess the spent
nuclear fuel (that remains) after uranium is enriched and used as a
nuclear fuel, saying that this will pave the way for the country to
become a major atomic power. The U.S. has been opposed to this
idea. U.S. Under Secretary of State Ellen Tauscher told a Senate
confirmation hearing that the U.S. will not permit the ROK to
reprocess spent nuclear fuel. A recent report by the Congressional
Research Service (CRS) also raised concerns over the ROK's call to
establish a nuclear fuel cycle. A (U.S.) think tank observed that,
unless the North Korean nuclear issue is resolved, (the U.S.) will
not allow the ROK to reprocess spent nuclear fuel when the two
countries revise the Atomic Energy Agreement.
Ambassador Stephens said, "Spent fuel has become a much more
immediate issue," ahead of the revision of the Agreement. The ROK
and the U.S. recently discussed the feasibility of pyro-processing.
This is a new recycling technology which cannot be diverted to
develop nuclear weapons.
The Ambassador said that the U.S. is well aware of "some of the
challenges of pyro-processing." Ambassador Stephens said, "We want
an agreement that reflects the strong alliance we have, that takes
into account the huge importance of nuclear energy in Korea, Korea's
aspirations for playing a larger role in the export market, concerns
about spent fuel and any proliferation concerns."
AMBASSADOR STEPHENS: "BMD PLAN IS BEING DISCUSSED WITH THE ROK"
(Chosun Ilbo, February 13, 2010, Page 5)
By Reporters Kang In-sun and Chung Woo-sang
With regard to the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) plan, U.S.
Ambassador to the ROK Kathleen Stephens said during a February 12
interview with Chosun Ilbo, "The ROK and the U.S. are in the early
stage of discussions," which is different from the denial of the
discussions by the ROK Ministry of National Defense. Ambassador
Stephens noted, "One of the missile threats that the world faces is
the North Korean missile program, and, therefore, we started to
discuss (the BMD) because we think that both the U.S. and the ROK
are interested in it (the North Korean missile threat)." The BMD is
the U.S.'s missile defense system designed to intercept a long-range
ballistic missile in midair.
The Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report, which was released by
the Pentagon on February 5, classified the ROK as a nation
interested in the BMD, and said, "The United States and ROK are
working to define possible future BMD requirements." The ROK
defense ministry, however, said in its official commentary, "We are
not consulting with the U.S. regarding the BMD."
The reason why the ROKG denied having discussions with the U.S. on
the BMD seems to be that, although Seoul recognizes the need of the
BMD system to counter a missile attack from the North, the ROKG is
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(also) mindful of China's position which considers the BMD as a
threat by the U.S. towards China.
During the interview, however, Ambassador Stephens described a North
Korean missile as one of the world's major missile threats and said,
"We are talking about what the ROK needs and what it should
strengthen in order to address the North Korean missile threat,"
confirming that discussions are ongoing between the ROK and the U.S.
As to the transfer of wartime operational control scheduled for
2012, Ambassador Stephens said, "I heard from USFK Commander General
Sharp this morning that work on the OPCON transfer in 2012 is
continuing prudently and properly," adding, "Under no circumstances
will the U.S. commitment to the ROK security lessen."
Excerpts from the interview are below.
Q. Some observers recently pointed out that President Obama may not
put a priority on (resolving) the North Korean nuclear issue due to
the U.S.'s (more pressing) domestic issues, such as health insurance
reform, as well as problems in Afghanistan.
"President Obama faces many domestic issues, including economic
challenges. However, the U.S., as a global power, has managed to,
and should do, a number of things at different locations around the
world, all at the same time. It is a misunderstanding to think that
President Obama is not paying attention to North Korea and its
nuclear issue. We do not accept the notion that North Korea should
possess a nuclear weapons program. We are just patient, but that
does not mean standing still. We are patient actively and
strategically. We are in consultation with related countries and
are stressing that there are serious consequences for North Korea if
it does not give up its nuclear ambitions."
Q. The ROK National Assembly's Foreign Affairs, Trade, and
Unification Committee passed the North Korean Human Rights Act on
February 10. What do you think about it?
"I welcome it since the ROK, as a member of the international
community, is not simply concerned about the North Korean human
rights issue but is making an effort to improve the human rights
situation in North Korea."
Q. The ROK joined the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the
OECD, and it has turned from a beneficiary to a benefactor.
"I have been very impressed by what I have seen. Recently, I had an
opportunity to talk about the KOICA (Korea International Cooperation
Agency)'s activities. The ROK has been doing very well in areas
like information technology and women's education. Its overseas
volunteer programs are focused on very practical skills, such as how
to drive. The ROK took a cultural approach, teaching people
Q. The ROKG is pushing for the deployment of a Provincial
Reconstruction Team to Afghanistan, but controversy is continuing at
the National Assembly. What would you like to say to people opposed
to the deployment?
"Over 40 countries are helping improve the situation in Afghanistan
in various ways. I respect that the ROK National Assembly has its
own democratic process. However, the ROK had successful experience
in Iraq and provided some hope to locals."
Q. Could you send a New Year's message to Chosun Ilbo readers?
"This year is the Year of the Tiger. As the tiger carries a lot of
deep symbolism in Korea, the year of 2010 seems to be a particularly
important year for Korea with the hosting of the G-20 summit. I
wish all of your readers health and happiness, and I hope that we
take ROK-U.S. relations to an even higher level."
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