Posts Tagged ‘North Korea’

Delegates to the United Nations General Assembly applaud the passage of the first UN treaty regulating the international arms trade in conventional arms at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, April 2, 2013. REUTERS-Devra Berkowitz-United Nations-Handout
Syria's representative, Bashar al-Jaafari, speaks to the United Nations General Assembly before the passage of the first UN treaty regulating the international arms trade in conventional arms at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, April 2, 2013. REUTERS-Devra Berkowitz-United Nations-Handout

1 of 2. Delegates to the United Nations General Assembly applaud the passage of the first UN treaty regulating the international arms trade in conventional arms at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, April 2, 2013.

 

The National Rifle Association (NRA), a powerful U.S. pro-gun lobbying group that has opposed the treaty from the start, said it was a sad day for the United States, which joined the vast majority of U.N. member states by voting for the pact.

Iran, Syria and North Korea cast the sole votes against the treaty. The same three states last week prevented a treaty-drafting conference at U.N. headquarters from reaching the required consensus to adopt the pact.

The official U.N. tally showed 154 votes in favor, three against 23 abstentions, though diplomats and U.N. officials said the actual vote was 155-3-22. They said Angola was recorded as having abstained, though it had attempted to vote yes.

Iran, which is under a U.N. arms embargo over its nuclear program, is eager to ensure its arms imports and exports are not curtailed, while Syria’s government is embroiled in a two-year civil war and relies on arms from Russia and Iran, envoys said.

North Korea is also under a U.N. arms embargo due to its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday that North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons poses a “growing threat” to the U.S. and its allies.

In a telephone call Tuesday evening to Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan, Hagel cited North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and said Washington and Beijing should continue to cooperate on those problems.

“The secretary emphasized the growing threat to the U.S. and our allies posed by North Korea’s aggressive pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs and expressed to General Chang the importance of sustained U.S.-China dialogue and cooperation on these issues,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement describing the phone call.

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While analysts call North Korea’s threats largely brinkmanship, there is some fear that a localized skirmish might escalate.

South Koreans wait to leave for the North Korean city of Kaesong at the Inter-Korea Transit Office in Paju, South Korea, on Monday

South Koreans wait to leave for the North Korean city of Kaesong at the Inter-Korea Transit Office in Paju, South Korea, on Monday

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — After weeks of warlike rhetoric, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gathered legislators Monday for an annual spring parliamentary session that followed a ruling party declaration that nuclear bomb building and a stronger economy were the nation’s top priorities.

The meeting of the Supreme People’s Assembly follows near-daily threats from Pyongyang, including vows of nuclear strikes on South Korea and the U.S. The United States, meanwhile, sent F-22 stealth fighter jets to participate in annual war games with South Korea, and the new South Korean president, who has a policy meant to re-engage Pyongyang with talks and aid, told her top military leaders to set aside political considerations and respond strongly should North Korea attack. (more…)

(Reuters) – South Korea will strike back quickly if the North stages any attack on its territory, the new president in Seoul warned on Monday, as tensions ratcheted higher on the Korean peninsula amid shrill rhetoric from Pyongyang and the U.S. deployment of radar-evading fighter planes.

North Korea says the region is on the brink of a nuclear war in the wake of United Nations sanctions imposed for its February nuclear test and a series of joint U.S. and South Korean military drills that have included a rare U.S. show of aerial power.

North Korea said on Saturday it was entering a “state of war” with South Korea in response to what it termed the “hostile” military drills being staged in the South. But there have been no signs of unusual activity in the North’s military to suggest an imminent aggression, a South Korean defence ministry official said last week.

“If there is any provocation against South Korea and its people, there should be a strong response in initial combat without any political considerations,” President Park Geun-hye told the defence minister and senior officials at a meeting on Monday.

The South has changed its rules of engagement to allow local units to respond immediately to attacks, rather than waiting for permission from Seoul.

Stung by criticism that its response to the shelling of a South Korean island in 2010 was tardy and weak, Seoul has also threatened to target North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and to destroy statues of the ruling Kim dynasty in the event of any new attack, a plan that has outraged Pyongyang.

Seoul and its ally the United States played down Saturday’s statement from the official KCNA news agency as the latest in a stream of tough talk from Pyongyang.

North Korea stepped up its rhetoric in early March, when U.S. and South Korean forces began annual military drills that involved the flights of U.S. B-2 stealth bombers in a practice run, prompting the North to puts its missile units on standby to fire at U.S. military bases in the South and in the Pacific.

The United States also deployed F-22 stealth fighter jets on Sunday to take part in the drills. The F-22s were deployed in South Korea before, in 2010.

On its part, North Korea has cancelled an armistice agreement with the United States that ended the Korean War and cut all hotlines with U.S. forces, the United Nations and South Korea.

NUCLEAR WEAPONS “NOT A BARGAINING CHIP”

Park’s intervention came on the heels of a meeting of the North’s ruling Workers Party Central Committee where leader Kim Jong-un rejected the notion that Pyongyang was going to use its nuclear arms development as a bargaining chip.

“The nuclear weapons of Songun Korea are not goods for getting U.S. dollars and they are … (not) to be put on the table of negotiations aimed at forcing the (North) to disarm itself,” KCNA news agency quoted him as saying.

At the meeting, Kim appointed a handful of personal confidants to the party’s politburo, further consolidating his grip on power in the second full year of his reign.

Pyongyang took part in nuclear disarmament talks for five years aimed at paying it off in return for abandoning its atomic weapons programme. Those talks fell apart in 2008. Some experts say the talks gave the North grounds to pursue a highly enriched uranium programme that took it closer to owning a working arsenal.

Songun is the Korean word for the “Military First” policy preached by Kim’s father who used it to justify the use of the impoverished state’s scare resources to build a 1.2-million strong army and a weapons of mass destruction programme.

CALLS FOR RESTRAINT

White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said North Korea’s announcement that it was in a state of war followed a “familiar pattern” of rhetoric.

China has repeatedly called for restraint on the peninsula.

However, many in South Korea have regarded the North’s willingness to keep open the Kaesong industrial zone, located just a few miles (km) north of the heavily-militarised border and operated jointly by both sides, as a sign that Pyongyang will not risk losing a lucrative source of foreign currency by mounting a real act of aggression.

The Kaesong zone is a vital source of hard currency for the North and hundreds of South Korean workers and vehicles enter daily after crossing the armed border. It was still open on Monday despite threats by Pyongyang to shut it down. Closure could also trap hundreds of South Korean workers and managers of the more than 100 firms that have factories there.

The North has previously suspended operations at the factory zone at the height of political tensions with the South, only to let it resume operations later.

North Korean army officers punch the air in a sign of loyalty at a rally in Kim Il Sung Square in central Pyongyang, North Korea. Photograph: Jon Chol Jin/AP

North Korean army officers punch the air in a sign of loyalty at a rally in Kim Il Sung Square in central Pyongyang, North Korea. Photograph: Jon Chol Jin/AP

Rhetoric seen as a sign of Pyongyang’s anger over recent economic sanctions

North Korea stepped up its warlike rhetoric at the weekend, declaring that the Korean peninsula was in a “state of war” and saying that its nuclear weapons were “the life of the nation” to be treasured at all cost.

“From this moment, North- South relations will be put at a state of war, and all the issues arising between the two will be dealt with in accordance to wartime regulations,” the North’s official KCNA news agency indicated in a statement on Saturday.

The two Koreas remain technically at war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.

The sabre-rattling and warlike rhetoric is a sign of Pyongyang’s anger over a fresh round of economic sanctions following its third nuclear weapons test on February 12th. (more…)

While analysts call North Korea’s threats largely brinkmanship, there is some fear that a localized skirmish might escalate.

South Korean soldiers patrol along a barbed-wire fence near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, on March 31. (Photo: Ahn Young-joon, AP)

South Korean soldiers patrol along a barbed-wire fence near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, on March 31. (Photo: Ahn Young-joon, AP)

SEOUL (AP) — A top North Korean decision-making body issued a pointed warning Sunday, saying that nuclear weapons are “the nation’s life” and will not be traded even for “billions of dollars.”

The comments came in a statement released after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un presided over the plenary meeting of the central committee of the ruling Workers’ Party. The meeting, which set a “new strategic line” calling for building both a stronger economy and nuclear arsenal, comes amid a series of near-daily threats from Pyongyang in recent weeks, including a vow to launch nuclear strikes on the United States and a warning Saturday that the Korean Peninsula was in a “state of war.” (more…)

North Korea issues more threats, the Vatican defends the pope’s feet-washing, and more in our round-up of stories that are making news and driving opinion….

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1. NORTH KOREA DECLARES STATE OF WAR WITH SOUTH KOREA
North Korea has said it is entering a “state of war” with South Korea in its latest escalation of rhetoric against its southern neighbour and the U.S. A statement promised “stern physical actions” against “any provocative act.” North Korea has threatened attacks almost daily after it was sanctioned for a third nuclear test in February. It has also reacted angrily to annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises. The U.S. has condemned the North’s “bellicose rhetoric”, while China and Russia have called for an easing of tensions. North and South Korea have technically been at war since the armed conflict between them ended in 1953, because an armistice was never turned into a peace treaty. [BBC]

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2. VATICAN DEFENDS POPE’S ACTIONS ON GOOD FRIDAY
On Good Friday, the Vatican dismissed criticism of Pope Francis’ decision to wash the feet of two women during a Maundy Thursday Mass at a Rome youth prison. The move came under fire from Catholic traditionalists who say that the rite is a re-enactment of Jesus washing the feet of the 12 apostles before his death, and thus should be limited only to men. Traditionally, popes have washed the feet of 12 priests during a solemn Mass in Rome’s St. John Lateran Basilica. A 1988 letter from the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship states that only “chosen men” can be admitted to the foot-washing ceremony, but including women in the rite is a widespread practice in the United States and elsewhere. This is Pope Francis’ first Easter celebrations as pontiff. [Washington Post]
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3. U.S. BUSINESS GROUPS NEAR IMMIGRANT LABOUR DEAL
The nation’s top business and labor groups are nearing agreement on a guest worker program for low-skilled immigrants, according to officials involved in the talks. An agreement between the labor and business communities would clear one of the last hurdles for an overall deal on immigration legislation in the Senate, which the bipartisan group hopes to introduce early next month. The United States Chamber of Commerce and the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the nation’s main federation of labor unions, have been in discussions parallel to those of the Senate group, and have reached a tentative agreement about the size and scope of a temporary guest worker program, which would grant up to 200,000 new visas annually for low-skilled workers. [New York Times]
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4. RESCUES CONTINUE AFTER TANZANIAN BUILDING COLLAPSE
Rescuers in Tanzania’s capital, Dar es Salaam, continued to search for survivors under a mountain of concrete and twisted metal Friday night following the collapse of a high-rise building. At least four people were dead and 60 missing after the 16-story building under construction collapsed, government and emergency officials said. Five children are believed to be among the missing. In addition to the deaths, at least 17 people were injured, said Suleiman Kova, a regional police commander. The Tanzanian Red Cross said rescue efforts would continue through the night. But the group also expressed relief, saying that casualty figures could have been far higher, but the streets were relatively empty of vendors and shoppers due to a holiday. [CNN]

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5. UNEMPLOYMENT RATES FALL ACROSS U.S.
Unemployment rates fell in 22 U.S. states in February, a sign that hiring gains are benefiting many parts of the country. The Labor Department said Friday that unemployment rates rose in 12 states and were unchanged in 16. Nationally, the unemployment rate slid to a four-year low of 7.7 percent in February, down from 7.9 percent in January. Since November, employers across the country have added an average of 200,000 jobs a month, nearly double the average from last spring. States hit hardest during the recession, like Nevada and Florida, are showing improvement. One reason for the big drop is that people have stopped applying for jobs, but hiring accelerated, too. Overall, 42 states added jobs in February from January, and just eight lost jobs. The biggest monthly job gains came in Texas (up nearly 81,000) and California (up more than 41,000). [TIME]
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6. STUDY FINDS NO CONNECTION BETWEEN VACCINES AND AUTISM
A study just published in the Journal of Pediatrics found no correlation between autism and increasing antigen number through completion of the vaccine schedule up to age 2. The study, led by Frank DeStefano, was funded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This topples one of the key pillars of  the “vaccines cause autism” argument, which is that the increase in the number of childhood vaccines over the years has increased autism prevalence. The twist in the study is that the children studied were born from 1994 to 1999, during a time when a single shot could contain more than 3,000 of the molecules that fire up the immune system. Today’s vaccine-related antigen exposure is considerably less. [Forbes]
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7. NAVY SEAL DIES IN PARACHUTE ACCIDENT
A Navy SEAL died following a parachute training accident, a Naval Special Warfare Command spokesman told ABC News on Friday evening. The SEAL, a senior chief, was participating in a routine free-fall training exercise at the USSOCOM Parachute Testing and Training Facility at Pinal Airpark in Arizona on Thursday when he, along with another SEAL, a petty first class officer, was injured, according to a Defense Department Official. The two men were evacuated to the University of Arizona Medical Center, where one of the SEALs died, according to the Naval Special Warfare Command spokesman. His family has been notified of the death. The second SEAL was in stable condition, a Department of Defense official said. The cause of the accident has not been officially determined, pending further investigation. [ABC News]
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8. JUDGE INDICTS PRINCIPAL IN SCHOOL CHEATING SCANDAL
A grand jury Friday indicted Beverly L. Hall, the former superintendent of the Atlanta School District, on racketeering and other charges, bringing a dramatic new chapter to one of the largest cheating scandals in the country. The grand jury also indicted 34 teachers and administrators in addition to Dr. Hall, who resigned in 2011 just before results of an investigation into the scandal was released. Hall could face up to 45 years in prison. Fulton County prosecutors painted a picture of a decade-long conspiracy that involved awarding bonuses connected to improving scores on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, the state’s main test of core academic subjects for elementary and middle schools, and a culture where, in some schools, cheating was an acceptable way to get them. [New York Times]

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9. FACEBOOK TO ANNOUNCE ANDROID PHONE
Facebook will reportedly introduce a modified version of Google’s Android operating system. This version of Android will reportedly put Facebook front and center and will debut on a handset made by HTC. “Imagine Facebook’s integration with iOS 6, but on steroids, and built by Facebook itself,” says TechCrunch‘s Josh Constine. “It could have a heavy reliance on Facebook’s native apps like Messenger, easy social sharing from anywhere on the phone, and more.” [NBC News]
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10. EPA REGULATIONS WILL TIGHTEN EMISSIONS REGULATIONS
The Obama administration proposed new regulations Friday to clean up gasoline and automobile emissions, claiming the new standards would provide $7 in health benefits from cleaner air for each dollar spent to implement them. The costs likely would be passed on to consumers in higher gasoline and automobile prices. The EPA said the new rule would reduce sulfur in gasoline and tighten automobile emission standards beginning in 2017, resulting in an increase in gas prices of less than a penny per gallon. The agency estimated it also would add $130 to the cost of a vehicle in 2025, but predicted it would yield billions of dollars in health benefits by slashing smog- and soot-forming pollution. The oil industry, Republicans, and some Democrats wanted EPA to delay the rule, citing higher costs. An oil industry study says it could increase gasoline prices by 6 to 9 cents a gallon. [TIME]