August 29, 2009:
The UAE (United Arab Emirates) revealed that, earlier this month, they seized a ship (the Australia, registered in the Bahamas) that was carrying an illegal (because of UN sanctions) cargo of North Korean weapons destined for Iran. The UAE has presented the evidence to the UN for a decision on how to dispose of the cargo (which was listed as "machine parts.") It's estimated that North Korea sells about $2 billion worth of weapons to Iran each year, making Iran North Korea's largest export customer.
North and South Korean diplomats are talking again, preparing to resume negotiations over how much South Korea will pay to have North Korea dismantle its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. North Korea has no intention of eliminating these weapons, but desperately needs the food, and other economic aid from South Korea to prevent an economic and political collapse up north. Talks with South Korea usually result in some goodies going north.
The North Korea are again insisting on direct talks with the United States, rather than six way (North and South Korea, China, Russia, the United States and Japan) negotiations. This is another smoke screen. The only negotiations that will work must include all the neighbors. The U.S. cannot make deals just with North Korea, and North Korea knows this. It's all just another negotiating ploy, one that the North Koreans have been using for decades.
India has brought a North Korea ship, seized while illegally anchored in the Indian Andaman islands, to a coastal port for more intensive search. The ship is believed to be carrying an illegal, and well concealed, cargo.
Satellite photos show that construction of new facilities continues in the suburbs of the capital, where the elite families live. There is no let-up in the importing of luxury goods, including automobiles. The leaders in the north are determined to go down with their Gucci's on. One thing the elite cannot have is cell phones. The use of such devices was made legal again at the beginning of the year (at least in the capital), and all the swells, and even their college age kids, have them. But not the most senior officials, who will often discuss top secret matters on the phone. Because security officials are certain that the United States is able to eavesdrop on any wireless communications, that do not want to risk having senior officials using cell phones at all.
For unknown reasons, the propaganda campaign praising heir apparent Kim Jong Woon (youngest son of Kim Jong Il) has suddenly stopped at the end of July. No one will say why, but this is ominous, even by North Korean standards. Meanwhile, Kim Jong Woon's father, Kim Jong Il, is all over the media making nice to South Korea and the West.
An increasing number of urban workers are being sent to the countryside to help with farming, factory and construction work. But there are often insufficient materials or tasks to keep these people busy. Thus there is growing unrest, including violence and murder (of supervisors) to protest this use of unpaid labor. Some of these workers are not even being fed, which is a real blow to morale.
August 27, 2009: Russia has moved a battalion of S-400 anti-missile missiles to the North Korean border. This is ostensibly to defend Russia from any malfunctioning North Korea missile launchers (of which there has been an increasing number from sites near the Russian border), but it's really a message to North Korea, that Russia is not happy with the way things are being mismanaged in North Korea. Russia does not want a collapse in North Korea, which could send over a million starving North Koreans towards the Russian border.
August 25, 2009: South Korea launched a satellite carrying rocket. The rocket worked, but the system that separated the 220 pound (100 kilogram) satellite from the rocket, to place it in orbit, failed. The satellite apparently fell back to earth and burned up. The satellite launcher rocket was designed with help from Russia. The satellite was to monitor the atmosphere and oceans.
August 22, 2009: North Korea announced that it would resume talking to South Korea. North Korea desperately needs South Korea food and economic aid, but is determined to avoid making it too obvious.
August 18, 2009: In South Korea, Former South Korean president Kim Dae Jung died at age 83. He led the struggle against military dictatorship in South Korea, and was elected president in 1997. He instituted the "Sunshine Policy" towards North Korea, which involved lots of diplomacy and no-strings aid. This culminated with a meeting between himself and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il in 2000. After that, it was all downhill. The meeting, it turned out, was arranged via a bribe, of over a $100 million to Kim Jong Il. The other aid for North Korea achieved nothing, and the collapse of the Sunshine Policy saw Kim Dae Jung leaving the presidency, under a cloud, in 2003. The new government took a more pragmatic, and hardnosed attitude, towards the North Korean government.
August 17, 2009: North Korea has agreed to reopen its borders to South Korean tourists (including those coming to meet family members who live in North Korea). This tourism is a big source of desperately needed foreign currency.
August 16, 2009: As expected, North Korea has threatened to use nuclear weapons in retaliation because of the increased sanctions, and perceived plans to invade North Korea. The invasion plans are a myth, but the sanctions are not. North Korea doesn't really have useable nuclear weapons yet, but the threat shows how serious the sanctions are.