The United Stated yesterday said North Korea would not receive $98 million in anticipated support unless it re-engages in denuclearization talks, the Yonhap News Agency reported (GSN, May 15).
"We are not going to expend one penny of those funds in the absence of their voluntary return to the six-party talks and their resumption of the obligations that they've already agreed to," U.S. Secretary of State said at a Senate hearing. "This money is, you know, there as a backdrop in the event we see the kind of changes in actions that we're looking for from the North Koreans."
The White House budgeted $98 million in fiscal 2010 funding to fund decommissioning of the North's nuclear facilities and the provision of heavy fuel oil as part of a 2007 agreement reached by China, Japan, Russia, the United States and both Koreas.
Pyongyang has made some moves toward denuclearization, including disabling key facilities at its Yongbyon nuclear complex and demolition of a cooling tower for its sole operational nuclear reactor. However, the process stalled late last year over questions of verification. North Korea pulled out of the six-party talks last month after it was condemned by the U.N. Security Council for a long-range missile test; it subsequently pledged to resume operations at Yongbyon and threatened to test another nuclear weapon (Yonhap News Agency I/TradingCharts.com, May 21).
Pyongyang's latest burst of antagonistic behavior might be a result of troubles within the North Korean government due to the illness of its dictator, Kim Jong Il, Yonhap reported (see GSN, Feb. 5).
Kim vanished from the public eye in 2008, re-emerging in April with a limp and a swollen hand. Observers suspect he experienced at least one stroke last summer.
"There [are] legitimate concerns being raised about the internal stability of North Korea, given Kim Jong Il's health problems, uncertainty about succession, the weak economy, and the persistent food shortages," CIA chief Leon Panetta said Monday. "The result is that North Korea remains one of the the most difficult and unpredictable threats that we face in the that part of the world."
"Like Iran, North Korea is a tough target to penetrate for intelligence purposes, but we're making good progress," he added. "The fact is, we had good notice about the fact that they were going to deploy the Taepodong missile [in April] and knew pretty well within an hour when that was going to happen"
Some officials posit that Pyongyang's hawks are using the power vacuum at the head of the government to block the potential for making nuclear concessions (Yonhap News Agency II/FreeRepublic.com, May 19).