Defector: UN Sanctions Would Play Havoc With North Korean Economy

The United Nations Security Council votes on a new sanctions resolution that would increase economic pressure on North Korea to return to negotiations on its missile program at U.N. headquarters, Aug. 5, 2017.

The United Nations Security Council votes on a new sanctions resolution that would increase economic pressure on North Korea to return to negotiations on its missile program at U.N. headquarters, Aug. 5, 2017.

 

The impact of the latest round of U.N. sanctions leveled against North Korea could be greater than the projected $1 billion cut in its export revenue if fully implemented, a high-profile North Korean defector told VOA’s Korean Service, and this would deal a significant financial blow to a regime intent on advancing its nuclear and missile programs.

FILE - A senior North Korean defector Ri Jong Ho, who worked for the North Korean government for about 30 years, speaks with VOA Korean Service’s Baik Sungwon.
FILE - A senior North Korean defector Ri Jong Ho, who worked for the North Korean government for about 30 years, speaks with VOA Korean Service’s Baik Sungwon.

“The new U.N. restrictions are perhaps the strongest sanctions ever imposed on Pyongyang because they demand a complete shutoff of markets for its most lucrative exports,” said Ri Jong Ho, who previously served various high-level roles in central agencies of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, overseeing the country’s overall production and trade and replenishing the Kim regime’s foreign currency reserves. “They certainly could threaten the Kim Jong Un regime’s lifeline.”

In response to North Korea’s two tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles in July, the U.N. Security Council unanimously passed another round of sanctions earlier this month — the seventh since the regime’s first nuclear weapons test in 2006. Many experts in Washington welcomed the measure, calling it the biggest diplomatic victory of the Trump administration, which has been seeking to build international pressure on North Korea.

FILE - In this July 29, 2017 photo, People watch a TV news program showing an image of a North Korea's test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea.
FILE - In this July 29, 2017 photo, People watch a TV news program showing an image of a North Korea's test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea.

“I think the latest U.N. resolution is yet another good, incremental step toward increasing pressure on North Korea,” said Bruce Klingner with the Heritage Foundation Asian Study Center. “Each U.N. resolution is better than its predecessor and each one is the strongest in history against North Korea.”

The sanctions call for, among other things, a total ban on the North’s principal exports, including coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood. The goal is to slash a third of the regime’s annual revenue, which total about $3 billion by U.N. estimates in the August 5 resolution drafted by the United States.

Garment production

Ri said North Korea’s annual export earnings are in fact significantly lower averaging about $2 billion in recent years. Pyongyang’s garment production, which on the record brings up to $1 billion, actually yields $100 million at best, he said, covering only labor and costs incurred in maintaining production facilities and equipment.

Garment processing not included in the U.N. sanctions has been one of the country’s biggest exports, with many firms, particularly based in China, taking advantage of low-cost labor available in the North to produce various kinds of clothing. Suppliers often send fabrics and other raw materials to North Korean factories where garments are assembled and exported with a “Made in China” label.

From 2014 until 2016, Pyongyang exported some 15 to 22 million tons of coal and 2.5 million tons of iron ore per year, worth roughly $1.1 billion and $200 million respectively, Ri said, adding lead and lead ore exports in the same period averaged about $100 million and seafood sales $300 million a year.

FILE - An employee walks between front-end loaders, which are used to move coal imported from North Korea at Dandong port in the Chinese border city of Dandong, Liaoning province Dec. 7, 2010.
FILE - An employee walks between front-end loaders, which are used to move coal imported from North Korea at Dandong port in the Chinese border city of Dandong, Liaoning province Dec. 7, 2010.

If countries — including China, which accounts for nearly 90 percent of North Korean trade — “thoroughly implement the recent ban on these principal exports, addressing all the potential loopholes, the North may face up to $1.7 billion a year in losses — or more than 80 percent — not just a third — of its annual export revenue,” Ri said. “This is a country whose economy is heavily reliant on its exports of natural resources — a major source of hard currency for the regime — and banning its coal, iron and iron ore, lead and lead ore, and seafood exports is tantamount to a total blockade on all trade.”

Natural resources exports

The effects of sanctions aren’t limited to these key exports, Ri said. Prohibiting North Korea’s exports of natural resources would cut off its supply of foreign currency, with an anticipated resulting drop in imports of strategic goods including fuel, food and fertilizers as well as various other raw materials and equipment necessary to keep production and construction activities going, said Ri.

“In that case,” he added, “the North Korean regime will inevitably experience financial strains, which would put a damper on its pursuits” such as building a nuclear-tipped missile that can strike the U.S mainland.

The new sanctions omit crude-oil supplies from Russia and China, which Ri said would be a crippling measure for the regime, one that Pyongyang’s traditional allies would not want to take. But because the current sanctions are expected to further diminish North Korea’s limited holdings of hard currency, the regime would be unable to purchase as much oil as it did before.

In an earlier interview with VOA, Ri said North Korea imports up to 200,000 to 300,000 tons of diesel from Russia and some 50,000 to 100,000 tons of gasoline from China every year. China also supplies the North with roughly 500,000 tons of crude oil by pipeline, all of which though goes toward Kim’s massive military, all of which is free of charge.

Ri added the sanctions could also result in an increase of the already rampant smuggling activities across China's border and a fierce competition for survival within North Korea.

For three decades, Ri worked in "Office 39," which the U.S. Treasury Department once described as a North Korean government branch that engages “in illicit economic activities and managing slush funds and generating revenues for the leadership.” His last posting was in Dalian, China, as the head of the Korea Daehung Trading Corporation.

Ri defected to South Korea in October 2014, and came to the United States in March 2016.

Jenny Lee contributed to this report which originated with VOA's Korean service (www.voakorea.com ).

Britain Seeks Brexit Without Borders for Northern Ireland

 

FILE - An Irish police officer removes a Garda checkpoint sign at the Armagh and County Louth border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, during a visit by European Union Chief Negotiator for Brexit Michel Barnier, May 12, 2017.

An Irish police officer removes a Garda checkpoint sign at the Armagh and County Louth border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, during a visit by European Union Chief Negotiator for Brexit Michel Barnier, May 12, 2017.

 

There should be no border posts between Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland after Brexit, Britain said in an early attempt to resolve one of the most complex aspects of its European Union exit.

Some 30,000 people cross the 500-kilometer border every day without customs or immigration checks, testing negotiators who have to work out how to tighten controls without inflaming tensions in a region where around 3,600 people were killed before a peace agreement in 1998.

The British government said in a paper due to be published on Wednesday that it wanted a seamless and frictionless frontier without "physical border infrastructure and border posts," arguing that new customs arrangements it proposed on Tuesday would allow the free flow of goods.

The issue of how the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland will fare is particularly sensitive given the decades of violence over whether it should be part of Britain or Ireland.

"Both sides need to show flexibility and imagination when it comes to the border issue in Northern Ireland," a British government source said.

FILE - A motorist crosses over the border from the Irish Republic into Northern Ireland near the town of Jonesborough, Northern Ireland, Jan. 30, 2017.
FILE - A motorist crosses over the border from the Irish Republic into Northern Ireland near the town of Jonesborough, Northern Ireland, Jan. 30, 2017.

Britain put forward two options for future customs arrangements with the EU on Tuesday — the first would involve no customs border at all, while a second detailed "highly-streamlined" customs checks.

However, the idea met with skepticism among some of Britain's soon-to-be former EU partners, with one EU official describing the idea of an invisible border as "fantasy."

"We have some very clear principles. Top of our list is to agree upfront no physical border infrastructure — that would mean a return to the border posts of the past and is completely unacceptable to the U.K.," the British source said.

Frictionless trade?

The EU has repeatedly warned that Britain cannot expect to maintain the benefits of the European single market after Brexit, with chief negotiator Michel Barnier saying in July that "frictionless trade" with the EU was not possible.

However, the British government also said it wants to maintain a Common Travel Area, a pact that allows free movement between the United Kingdom and Ireland for British and Irish citizens.

And it rejected the idea of a customs border in the Irish Sea that separates England, Wales and Scotland from Ireland and Northern Ireland as "not constitutionally or economically viable."

Northern Ireland sold 2.7 billion pounds ($3.47 billion) of goods into Ireland in 2015, according to official figures, and many businesses have complex supply chains that involve crossing the border multiple times during the production process.

Commenting on the advance briefing of the position paper, the Irish government said it was "timely and helpful" and that it hoped enough progress could be made to move talks forward.

"Protecting the Peace Process is crucial and it must not become a bargaining chip in the negotiations," the Irish government said in a statement, in reference to the Good Friday Agreement which was signed on April 10, 1998, after multiparty talks and led to the creation of an elected assembly in Belfast.

The border is one of three priority issues that the EU is insisting must be dealt with during the opening rounds of talks before moving on to Britain's future relationship with the bloc.

The first two rounds of divorce talks in Brussels have made limited progress, prompting the EU to warn the next phase — which Britain is keen to get to — could be delayed unless Prime Minister Theresa May's team comes armed with more detail.

But pro-EU campaign group Open Britain said the government's proposal lacked specifics.

"They don't outline how a frictionless or seamless border can be achieved when the U.K. leaves the EU and won't reassure anybody about the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland," Labor Party lawmaker Conor McGinn said.

Thousands Flee as Iraq Steps Up Airstrikes on IS-held Town

A handout picture released by the Iraqi Federal Police on Aug. 15, 2017, shows Iraqi armored units headed for the town of Tal Afar, the main remaining Islamic State stronghold in the northern part of the country. Iraqi warplanes carried out airstrikes against IS group positions in Tal Afar in preparation for a ground assault.

A handout picture released by the Iraqi Federal Police on Aug. 15, 2017, shows Iraqi armored units headed for the town of Tal Afar, the main remaining Islamic State stronghold in the northern part of the country. Iraqi warplanes carried out airstrikes against IS group positions in Tal Afar in preparation for a ground assault.

 

Thousands of Iraqis have fled an Islamic State-held town west of Mosul as Iraqi and coalition warplanes step up strikes ahead of a ground offensive to drive out the militants.

Tal Afar and the surrounding area is one of the last pockets of IS-held territory in Iraq after victory was declared in July in Mosul, the country's second-largest city. The town, about 150 kilometers (93 miles) east of the Syrian border, sits along a major road that was once a key IS supply route.

On Monday, hundreds of exhausted civilians were brought by Iraqi army trucks from the front line to a humanitarian collection point just west of Mosul. Many described a harrowing journey of a day or more from Tal Afar, with no food or water.

Jassem Aziz Tabo, an elderly man who arrived with his 12-member family, said he had left Tal Afar months ago and gone to a village on the outskirts to escape hunger, airstrikes and violence from the militants.

"Those who tried to escape were captured and shot in the head. They killed my son," he said. "He tried to escape, he was caught and they killed him."

He said severe shortages had caused the price of food to skyrocket in Tal Afar, which has been besieged by Iraqi forces for months, with a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of sugar selling for $50.

"There was nothing. We were eating pieces of bread with water," he said.

Alia Imad, a mother of three whose family paid $300 to a smuggler to lead them to safety, said there was no drinking water left in the town. "Most people drink water that's not clean. The majority are surviving on that and a bit of bread," she said.

Tal Afar, Iraq
Tal Afar, Iraq

The people she was with had come under fire during their escape from the militants, she said. A woman was killed, and they had to bury her by the road.

'Very tough' conditions

Lise Grande, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator, said conditions in Tal Afar were "very tough."

"Thousands of people are leaving, seeking safety and assistance. Families escaping northeast are trekking 10 and up to 20 hours to reach mustering points. They are exhausted and many are dehydrated when they finally arrive," she said.

Lieutenant General Anwar Hama, of the Iraqi air force, told The Associated Press that airstrikes this week had targeted IS headquarters, tunnels and weapon storage sites.

But Iraqi forces, closely backed by the U.S.-led coalition, are not expected to push into the town for another few weeks, according to an Iraqi officer overseeing the operation. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

FILE - Iraqi government forces drive down a road leading to Tal Afar, June 9, 2017, during ongoing battles to retake the city from Islamic State fighters.
FILE - Iraqi government forces drive down a road leading to Tal Afar, June 9, 2017, during ongoing battles to retake the city from Islamic State fighters.

Iraqi army, federal police and special forces units are expected to participate in the operation, as well as state-sanctioned mostly Shiite militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces.

Militiamen plan bigger role

The militiamen largely stayed out of the operation to retake Mosul, a mostly Sunni city, but have vowed to play a bigger role in Tal Afar, which was mostly Shiite before it fell to IS, a Sunni extremist group. The militias captured Tal Afar's airport, on the outskirts of the town, last year.

Their participation in the coming offensive could heighten sectarian and regional tensions. Tal Afar was once home to Shiite and Sunni Arabs, as well as a sizable ethnic Turkmen community with close ties to neighboring Turkey. Turkish officials have expressed concern that once territory is liberated from IS, Iraqi Kurdish or Shiite forces may push out Sunni Arabs or ethnic Turkmen.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said his country would be watching the operation closely.

"Tal Afar is a town where almost the entire population is Turkmen. We have always considered it a priority for the region to be cleared from [IS] and for it to be returned to its owners," Bozdag said after a Cabinet meeting Tuesday.

"Turkey has always said that the region's demographic and religious makeup must be taken into consideration," Bozdag said. The state-backed militias "should not enter the region."

On Monday, the Iraqi army began moving an armored brigade to the front line south of Tal Afar, while an infantry division was deployed about 30 kilometers (19 miles) to the town's east.

Brigadier General Abdul Hussein al-Khazali, deputy commander of the army's 15th division, said his forces were going to inch closer to Tal Afar village by village before launching the final attack, partly to ensure they can protect fleeing civilians.

The United Nations says 49,000 people have fled the Tal Afar district since April, compounding a humanitarian crisis that has lingered despite the cessation of major fighting inside Mosul. It says nearly a million people were displaced by the Mosul campaign.

Norway PM Doubles Down on Tax Cuts in Bid for Second Term

FILE - Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg attends the press conference after the meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, June 29, 2017.

Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg attends the press conference after the meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, June 29, 2017

 

With four weeks to go before an election that is too close to call, Norway's Conservative prime minister, Erna Solberg, pledged on Monday to cut taxes to boost growth and job creation if she was re-elected.

In power as head of a minority coalition government since 2013, Solberg is attempting to become the first right-wing prime minister to win re-election since 1985.

While taxes, unemployment and a rural backlash against government reforms are hotly debated, opinion polls show a near dead heat between Solberg's right-wing coalition and center-left parties seeking to replace it in a Sept. 11 vote for parliament.

Support for the main opposition Labor Party, which seeks to raise taxes on high earners and the wealthy, has slipped slightly in recent weeks, erasing the narrow lead held by the center-left in most polls during spring and early summer.

"We must get across the message that Norwegian politics won't have to go left when it's so obvious that the economy is improving and jobs are being created," Solberg told Reuters on the sidelines of a news conference.

She highlighted spending on education and transport, as well as "growth-enabling tax cuts" as key priorities ahead.

The price of oil, Norway's key export, fell by more than 70 percent from 2014 to 2016, lifting unemployment to a 20-year high of five percent last year, but crude has since staged a partial recovery and the jobless rate has eased to 4.3 percent.

The government increased spending from Norway's $975 billion sovereign wealth fund, the world's largest, to aid the recovery, but the growth in public spending should moderate now that growth is normalizing, Solberg added.

Leader of the Norway's opposition Labor party Jonas Gahr Stoere poses for a picture in parliament in Oslo, Norway, May 30, 2017.
Leader of the Norway's opposition Labor party Jonas Gahr Stoere poses for a picture in parliament in Oslo, Norway, May 30, 2017.

Labor leader Jonas Gahr Stoere reiterated a plan to raise income and wealth taxes by up to 15 billion Norwegian crowns ($1.89 billion) to pay for public services while avoiding becoming too dependent on the wealth fund's cash.

"It's fair and necessary to do this," he told independent broadcaster TV2, adding the money would be used to hire more teachers, improve care for the elderly and help combat climate change.

A survey published by TV2 on Monday, asking eligible voters who they believed would win, showed 50.3 percent expected Gahr Stoere to become prime minister, while 48.4 percent of those polled thought Solberg would stay in power.

An Aug. 11 poll by Respons on behalf of the newspaper Aftenposten showed Labour and two key backers, the Center Party and the Socialist Left, obtaining a combined 44.6 percent support, down from 46.3 percent in June. The government and its backers rose to 47.1 percent from 46.3 percent.

The outcome of the vote could ultimately be decided by the results for several small parties, including the right-leaning Liberals, the far-left Reds and the unaligned Green Party. All are battling to surpass a four-percent election threshold.

Leaders of all eight parties that currently hold seats in parliament, as well as the Red Party, are due to hold their first televised debate of the campaign at 1930 GMT.

($1 = 7.9371 Norwegian crowns)

Turkey Opposition Leader's Arrest Feared

FILE - Lawmakers and supporters listen to a weekly speech by Kemal Kilicdaroglu, right, the leader of Turkey's pro-secular main opposition Republican People's Party, in Kizilcahamam, June 20, 2017.

Lawmakers and supporters listen to a weekly speech by Kemal Kilicdaroglu, right, the leader of Turkey's pro-secular main opposition Republican People's Party, in Kizilcahamam, June 20, 2017.

 

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) is voicing alarm its leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu could face prosecution and jail in an ongoing crackdown in Turkey, which has seen more than a dozen parliament deputies jailed.

“There is a big plot against the CHP,” warned Bulent Tezcan in an interview Monday with Turkey’s Cumhuriyet newspaper, “Any steps taken against the main opposition party may open an era where the ruling party would not be able to have their way in peace,” added Tezcan.

Tezcan’s comments follows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's suggestion Kilicadaroglu could be implicated in an ongoing espionage investigation into the publishing of a newspaper story linking Erdogan’s AKP government to arms shipments to Syrian rebels. “Don’t get surprised if Kilicdaroglu’s is linked to the issue,” Erdogan said in a speech Sunday.

FILE - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves to supporters as he arrives for a congress of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara, May 21, 2017.
FILE - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves to supporters as he arrives for a congress of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara, May 21, 2017.

Kilicdaroglu's close ally and parliamentary deputy Enis Berberoglu was jailed June for 25 years for writing the arms story. The jailing of Berberoglu was the trigger for Kilicdaroglu launching his 25 day “Justice March” from the capital Ankara to Turkey’s largest city Istanbul. The march drew tens of thousands of supporters culminating in a rally drawing over a million people.

FILE - Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party, walks with thousands of supporters on the 21st day of his 425-kilometer (265-mile) " March for justice " in Izmit, Turkey, July 5, 2017.
FILE - Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party, walks with thousands of supporters on the 21st day of his 425-kilometer (265-mile) " March for justice " in Izmit, Turkey, July 5, 2017.

Kilicdaroglu targeted

Erdogan who until recently dismissed Kilicdaroglu as a political no hoper, is now targeting the main opposition leader. July’s commemorations marking the defeat of last year’s coup attempt saw the president alleging Kilicdaroglu’s involvement with the coup plotters.

“Erdogan is reacting to this [Kilicdaroglu] threat, as he perceives it. We are two years away from general elections and presidential elections and he sees that the playing field is not as smooth and as clear as he would like it,” observes Semih Idiz political columnist of the Al Monitor website, “So we can expect in the coming days that he [Erdogan] will ratchet up his rhetoric against the main opposition leader. But it is inconceivable he [Kilicdaroglu] would be put in prison. I think you would have a block uniting, that Erdogan would not want to uniting,” Idiz added.

Under emergency rule introduced after the failed coup, HDP party co-leader’s Figen Yuksekdag and Selahattin Demirtas have been jailed on terrorism charges. Nine other deputes of Turkey’s second-largest opposition party are also in jail, with further prosecutions looming.

FILE - A supporter holds a portrait of Selahattin Demirtas, detained leader of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples' Democratic Party at a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Nov. 8, 2016.
FILE - A supporter holds a portrait of Selahattin Demirtas, detained leader of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples' Democratic Party at a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Nov. 8, 2016.

“When it comes to rhetoric, it is very seldom, he [Erdogan] really means what it says. So when it comes to Kilicdarolgu he may face prosecution,” warns Political scientist Cengiz Aktar. “By doing so, if it happens, President Erdogan shows how he is strong to his constituency. That he is even capable of putting in jail the president of the party, which is after all, is the party of Ataturk. Symbolically its very, very strong.”

A potential heavy price

The founder of the Turkish Secular Mustafa Kemal Ataturk formed the CHP in 1919. But Erdogan could pay a heavy price if Kilicdarolgu is prosecuted. “If you start persecuting that person, then his leadership qualities will increase in the eyes of many and diverse community in Turkey,” points out columnist Idiz, noting that in Turkey the underdog invariably resonates with the electorate. “Now whether the AKP wants to go in that direction, well it may try, but it will be hard one for it to swallow. Don't forget he [Erdogan] himself built a career on his unjust, and it was unjust, imprisonment.”

During a crackdown inspired by Turkey’s generals against Islamic groups, Erdogan was jailed for four months in 1999 for sedition, for reciting a poem at a political rally. Erdogan went on to lead his AKP three years later.

But political scientist Aktar suggests the Turkey of today is very different from 20 years ago,

"Six million voters have elected scores of HDP deputies, and the top management of the party and the MP’s and the co- presidents of the party are in jail, and there is no reaction. So I think it will be the same for CHP, people will protest, but full stop. I mean they will let it go. I think everyone is trying to survive with this regime.” said Aktar.

The president and his government insist any decision on the prosecution of Kilicdaroglu is strictly a matter for prosecutors and the courts. But with Erdogan showing no signs of easing up his rhetoric against Kilicdaroglu, all sides are likely to be weighing up the consequences of such a prosecution.

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