North Korea actually sides with South Korea over something

What is it this summer with East Asia and contested islands? June and July saw the resumption of a longstanding dispute involving China and a handful of Southeast Asian countries over the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea.

Now, it's Japan and South Korea who are feuding. Yesterday, South Korea barred entry to three Japanese lawmakers who flew into Seoul to travel to the Liancourt Rocks, a chain of volcanic islets between the two countries under dispute since the end of World War II. The politicians, all members of the Japanese diet, had announced their trip in late July, a month after Korean Air routed a test flight of a new aircraft over the island chain. Japan responded at the time by instituting a one-month boycott of Korean Air flights among its diplomats, and the latest trip had been intended as a means to reassert Japanese sovereignty over the islands.

Provocations over the Liancourt Rocks dispute are a fairly regular gesture from South Korean and Japanese politicians looking to curry favor among nationalists at home. But South Korea's posturing also attracts support from a surprising source: North Korea. Kim Jong-Il's regime tends to echo its neighbors to the south when the Liancourt Rocks dispute crops up, according to the Diplomat.

This time was no different. On July 20, a characteristically thundering commentary on Uriminzokkiri, North Korea's official website, condemned Japan for its latest plans to infringe upon Korean sovereignty. South Korea's Yonhap News Agency translates from the statement:

"We are determined to take 1,000 times our people's revenge for Japan's reactionary moves, which, far from apologizing or compensating for the immeasurable unhappiness and pain inflicted upon our people, only scheme to take away our land....

"The entire people must unite to resolutely crush the scheme to seize Dokdo, in order that the Japanese reactionaries may never again set sight on our land. This is our generation's demand and the call of the people."

The lawmakers' actual visit occasioned a reiteration of the North Korean stance from the Secretariat of the Committee for the Peaceful Unification of Korea. The committee also takes a swipe at South Korea's "passive approach" in resolving the dispute. Once again, from Yonhap:

"The Japanese reactionaries' recent moves are serious issues not to be tolerated by the Korean nation as they revealed once again their ambition to seize Ullung Island and Tok Islets, inalienable parts of the territory of Korea. ...

"It is due to the present South Korean ruling forces' servile attitude toward Japan ... that the Japanese reactionaries are set to visit the Tok Islets like their own land."

Also going down in the annals of uncharacteristic recent behavior from North Korea: After allowing the establishment of an AP bureau in Pyongyang earlier this year, the North Korean government allowed two AP photographers unusually wide access to tour both Pyongyang and the North Korean countryside, albeit with minders. The Atlantic has culled the best of their photos here and they're worth a look.

KCNA/AFP/Getty Images


Report: Mossad behind string of assassinations in Iran

Israel's Mossad intelligence agency carried out the assassinations of several Iranian nuclear scientists in recent months, which has led to "the virtual decimation of the Islamic republic's elite physicists," according to Germany's Der Spiegel. The latest victim -- 35-year-old physicist Darioush Rezaei -- was shot in the throat in front of his daughter's kindergarten in Tehran on July 23. The attackers fled on motorcycle. Iran said Rezaei was a student, not a nuclear weapons expert, but the Associated Press reported last week that international sources confirmed he was indeed involved with the country's nuclear weapons program, working specifically on a key component for detonating a nuclear bomb -- high-voltage switches.

According to Der Spiegel, Rezaei is the third scientist to die in the past year and a half (and the fourth to be targeted). The others were:

  • In January 2010, the nuclear physicist Masoud Ali Mohammadi died when a remotely detonated bomb rigged to a motorcycle exploded next to his car. Western experts considered Mohammadi to be one of Iran's top nuclear scientists.
  • On Nov. 29, 2010, unknown perpetrators committed two attacks which involved motorcyclists attaching explosive devices to their victims' cars while driving. Majid Shahriari, a professor of nuclear physics who specialized in neutron transport, which is relevant for making bombs, was killed when his car exploded. His wife was seriously injured in the attack.
  • Fereidoun Abbasi was targeted in a simultaneous attack. Abbasi, an expert in nuclear isotope separation, noticed the suspicious motorcyclist, however, and he and his wife jumped out of the car. They were both injured in the explosion. After Abbasi recovered, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appointed him as one of Iran's vice presidents as well as head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization.

Iran's reaction to the deaths has been somewhat confused, say analysts. Perhaps due to embarrassment, some leaders have downplayed the accusations of outside countries being involved in past deaths. But after Rezaei's murder, Iran squarely blamed Israel, the United States, and their allies. The United States has denied any involvement. Israel has been somewhat coyer, according to Der Spiegel.

‘Israel is not responding,' Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said earlier this week when asked if his country had been involved in the latest slaying of an Iranian nuclear scientist. It didn't exactly sound like a denial, and the smile on his face suggested Israel isn't too bothered by suspicions that it is responsible...

Der Spiegel based its report on "sources in Israeli intelligence," who told the German magazine that the deaths are part of a campaign to sabotage Iran's nuclear program. In the past, analysts have speculated that the Stuxnet computer virus, which harmed computer systems that were part of Iran's nuclear program, was developed and deployed by Israel (and possibly the United States). The virus reportedly shut down the country's main nuclear reactor at Bushehr last year, before Iran was able to get the damage under control.