Kim Jong Un Leads North Korea

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Kim Jong Un Leads North Korea - WASHINGTON —In recent months the Obama...
WASHINGTON —In recent months the Obama administration has moved to re-engage North Korea, and U.S. officials had expected to announce plans this week to ship food and other humanitarian aid to the perennially stricken nation in exchange for Pyongyang’sagreement to suspend work on nuclear enrichment. The death of North Korea’s longtime leader Kim Jong Iland the rise of his son and political heir apparent, Kim Jong Un,has put those overtures on hold for now, U.S. officials said Monday, adding a fresh level of uncertainty to a diplomatic relationship long marked by distrust on both sides. With little clarity yet about the untested new leader in Pyongyang, the Obama administration struggled with even mundane issues about the path ahead. After internal debate, the State Department decided not to issue formal condolences to North Korea, as it normally does when a foreign leader dies. South Korea, a close U.S. ally, also has refrained from offering that diplomatic courtesy. But some U.S. diplomats worry that failing to express official sympathy could provoke an angry reaction from the new regime. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton,appearing at the State Department, avoided any mention of Kim’s death, emphasizing instead “hope for improved relations with the people of North Korea.” For Washington, the most important challenge is how to restrain the authoritarian regime’s development and production of nuclear warheads, plus its growing array of short-range, medium- range and intercontinental ballistic missiles. North Korea tested nuclear devices in 2006and 2009 and revealed a new uranium enrich- ment program last year. U.S. satellite imagery last month revealed construction of a new light water reactor was under way at Yongbyon,a center of its nuclear program. U.S. officials said that while Kim Jong Un ultimately could open long- closed doors to greater engagement with the West and perhaps allow the start of modest political reforms, they are working under the assumption that the succession is going as planned, the new government will cling to its nuclear weapons and little will change in the foreseeable future. At the White House, spokesman Jay Carneywould not say if Kim Jong Il’s death could provide an opening for an improved relationship between North Korea and the international community. “North Korea is in a period of national mourning,” he said. “This transition is just now beginning to take place.” Carney said U.S. officials have “no new concerns” about North Korea’s nuclear stockpile as aresult of Kim’s death and his son’s succession. “I don’t think we have additional concerns beyond the ones we’ve long had with North Korea’s approach to nuclear issues, and we will continue to press them to meet their international obligations,” he said. Kim’s death comes as tensions between Washington and Pyongyang appeared to be easing, partly as a result of agreements reached over the weekend in Beijing. But U.S. officials said they postponed their decision to send 240,000 tons of food aid to North Korea and that the effort to restart the stalled six-nation talkswould be put on hold during the mourning period. Kim’s death underscored the limits of U.S. intelligence on developments in North Korea. U.S. officials said they did not learn of Kim’s death, which occurred early Saturday, until it was announced Mondayon state media. U.S. officials said they had detected no unusual troop movements or changes in military readiness since Kim’s death. Gen. Martin Dempsey,chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Pentagon had not seen “any change in North Korean behavior that would alarm us.” Dempsey also downplayed North Korea’s launch of two short-range missiles Monday, saying the tests apparently were planned before Kim’s death. Asked if the ascension of Kim Jong Un, who is believed to be 27, could be destabilizing, Dempsey said, “I would only say that at this point that he is young to be placed in that position.” While White House officials sought to play down the significance of the transition, former U.S. officials and regional experts said the shift could provide a historic opportunity to ease the conflict on the Korean peninsula. Victor Cha,who was a senior adviser to President George W. Bush, said Kim’s death could broaden international discussion of the nuclear issue. The Obama administration’s recent discussions with North Korea “constituted small bites at the apple,” Cha, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote in an email. “We are now talking about the whole apple.” Tribune Newspapers’ Ken Dilanian, David C. Cloud and Christi Parsons contributed from Washington. prichter@tribune.com Fresh unease over N. Korea U.S. puts aid plans on hold as nation transitions to son By Paul Richter Tribune Washington Bureau A South Korean soldier keeps watch on North Korea at an outpost Monday near the Demilitarized Zone,which divides the nations. The U.S. has not detected unusual troop movements following Kim Jong Il’s death. YONHAP PHOTO Kim Jong Un

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  1. Chicago Tribune,
  2. 20 Dec 2011, Tue,
  3. Page 1-18

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