South Korea continues to pressure the US to modify the 1979 agreement under which South Korea is not allowed to have missiles with a range more than 180km or a warhead of more than 300kg. The South Koreans want 300km (a figure the US seems to have accepted) and 500kg, with the right to conduct research on missiles reaching 500km. The US fears that this would touch off a regional arms race, but critics note that North Korea is already building new missiles regardless of what South Korea does. South Korea recently tested its new Hyunmu missile. The flight was only 50km, but the missile was only partly fueled and could reach 300km with a full load of fuel.--Stephen V Cole
December 20; Last February, the South Korean government released 17 old North Korean prisoners who had been held in prison for decades on espionage charges. Seoul, however, would not allow them to go home to North Korea unless North Korea released prisoners it had been holding since the Korean War. North Korea insisted that it held no such prisoners, although South Korea has published a list of 454 South Koreans it believes are held in North Korean prisons, including many fishermen arrested over the last 45 years. --Stephen V Cole
December 19; North Korea and Japan are holding talks to re-establish diplomatic relations and humanitarian aid. The big stumbling block is the dozen or so Japanese alleged to have been kidnapped and taken to North Korea in the 1970s and 80s. North Korean defectors first brought this to light, asserting that they had seen the Japanese being pressed into service to train North Korean agents to operate in Japan. North Korea denies all of this.