The death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il could dim hopes for fresh nuclear disarmament talks with the United States and its key Asian allies as an untested and largely unknown heir takes charge of one of the world’s most feared atomic renegade states.
The most crucial immediate question for Washington, and close ally Seoul, is whether Kim’s hermetic state can survive his death and complete a power transition to his youngest son Kim Jong-un, named by state news agency KCNA as the “Great Successor” to his father.
“The reason people are watching closely is not because we expect the North to strike out, it’s because events within North Korea could have unsettling ramifications,” said Rod Lyon, a Korea expert at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra.
“If there’s a contested succession, it means there’s a struggle over things like who controls North Korea’s plutonium, not just who controls North Korea’s army.”
The White House said President Barack Obama was in close touch with South Korea and Japan, two of the other countries engaged in six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear program.
“We remain committed to stability on the Korean peninsula, and to the freedom and security of our allies,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a written statement.
Poor Bammy may need to interrupt his lavish Hawaiian vacation. Oh, the pain.
For Obama, Kim’s death comes at a tricky time as the administration weighs whether to re-engage with Pyongyang on the nuclear issue and whether to provide food aid for millions of North Koreans hard hit by shortages.
In his memory, Kim’s greatest video hit.
Tim Blair has a Kim retrospective.