North Korean leader Kim Jong Il dead; US-North Korea talks now uncertain

Updated On: Dec 19, 2011

Kim Jong Il dead, raising fears of instability

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has died, just as the US and North Korea were on the verge of a breakthrough in talks -- North Korea reportedly agreed to suspend its uranium enrichment programme, with the US also agreeing to donate 240,000 tons of food aid, according to news reports.

Mr. Kim's death was announced on Monday by state television from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. According to the North Korean state television announcer, Kim died from fatigue during a train ride on Saturday. He was 69.

He probably suffered a stroke in 2008, but appeared to have recovered. The news comes as North Korea is preparing for a hereditary transfer of power to Mr. Kim’s son, Kim Jong Un.

The potential succession of Kim Jong Un threatens to usher in a risky period for the Korean peninsula, where 1.7 million troops from the two Koreas and the US face each other. Asian stocks and US index futures have fallen, with South Korean shares plunging as much as 5 percent. The Korean won fell 1.8 percent on the news, which financial markets fear could cause instability in the region because of the uncertainty of a leadership transition in North Korea.

Report: North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, 69, has died (Associated Press, 19 Dec 2011)

Report: Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s ‘Dear Leader’ Dictator, Dead at 70 (Bloomberg, 19 Dec 2011)

Report: Stocks fall, dollar up after death of Kim Jong-il (Reuters, 19 Dec 2011)

South Korea's military on emergency footing; President Lee cancels planned schedules

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) has placed all military units on emergency alert following the news of Mr. Kim’s death. The JCS said it called an emergency meeting of officials handling crisis management and operations just after noon on Monday, after the North Korean media reported Kim's death. President Lee Myung-Bak has also reportedly cancelled all planned schedules.

Report: S. Korean military declares emergency alert after Kim Jong-il's death (Yonhap, 19 Dec 2011)

Report: President Lee Myung-bak cancels all planned schedules over N. Korean leader's death (Yonhap, 19 Dec 2011)

US-North Korea talks may be postponed

Following Mr. Kim’s death, North Korea and the US are highly likely to postpone bilateral nuclear talks scheduled for this week in Beijing, a senior Seoul official said Monday on the condition of anonymity. "In the wake of the North Korean leader Kim's death, it would be difficult for the two sides to hold the talks in Beijing this week," the official said.

Report: N. Korea, U.S. may delay bilateral talks following Kim's death (Yonhap, 19 Dec 2011)

Mr. Kim’s death is the latest in breaking developments regarding North Korea.  New uncertainty has clouded the breakthrough of the behind-the-scenes diplomatic contacts between the two adversaries.

Robert King, US special envoy for North Korean human rights, met with Ri Gun, head of North American affairs at North Korea's foreign ministry, on Thursday and Friday in Beijing. Sources say the talks had yielded results as the US was poised to announce a significant donation of food aid to North Korea this week, widely considered to be the first significant achievement of the talks. North Korea was also expected to agree to suspend its uranium enrichment programme after the US announcement, a main US precondition for the resumption of nuclear disarmament talks.

Talks have been taking place since summer in New York, Geneva and Beijing, with North Korea now reportedly agreeing to suspend nuclear and ballistic missile testing, readmit international nuclear inspectors expelled in 2009, and resume talks between North and South Korea.

The announcement on food aid was expected to occur as early as Monday in Washington, and would have paved the way for the US-North Korea meeting in Beijing, which was in turn hoped to lead to the resumption of the suspended nuclear disarmament talks that would also include China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.

According to South Korean reports, the US would provide 240,000 tons of high-protein biscuits and vitamins but not rice. The shipments, to be sent in batches of 20,000 tons over 12 months, would be the first US food aid to North Korea in three years.

The six-party talks have been stalled since 2009, when North Korea tested a missile capable of reaching US continental territory, resulting in widespread condemnation and a strengthening of UN sanctions. North Korea, which insisted the rocket launch was designed to send a satellite into space, pulled out of the nuclear disarmament talks in protest. Within weeks, North Korea tested a nuclear device and announced it would begin enriching uranium, giving the country a second way to make atomic weapons.

Report: US aid a step toward Korea nuke talks (Associated Press, 19 Dec 2011)

Report: N. Korea 'agrees to suspend uranium enrichment' (AFP, 18 Dec 2011)

UPDATE: US officials say US to postpone food aid, nuclear engagement with North Korea

US officials have said that the Obama Administration is warily observing developments on the Korean peninsula after Mr. Kim's death and may postpone deicsions on re-engaging the country in nuclear discussions and providing it with good aid.They said the US was especially worried about any changes in the military postures of both Koreas but expressed hope that calm would prevail.

The White House said it was keeping watch over the situation and remained in constant contact with US allies South Korea and Japan, but it offered no significant comment on the implications of Mr. Kim’s death.

Two senior US diplomats in Beijing are due to meet Obama’s top national security aides on Monday to discuss the next steps. US decisions on food aid and nuclear re-engagement will most certainly be delayed as it is unclear if North Korean officials will be in position to handle any engagement with outsiders, the US officials said.

Analysts say that Mr. Kim's death and the following leadership transition would darken the prospects for a return to nuclear talks. Jim Walsh, a North Korea expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's security studies program, said that Mr. Kim's passing "means we are entering a more dangerous phase in North Korean, South Korean and U.S. relations... Naturally, North Korea is going to be on the offensive. This young leader is going to have to prove his worth."

Report: Officials: Wary US may delay nuke talks, food aid decisions after N. Korean leader’s death (Washington Post, 19 Dec 2011)

Analysis: Kim death complicates Obama's N.Korea nuclear quandary (Reuters, 19 Dec 2011)

Apart from South Korea, Japan is also preparing for the unexpected.

"We hope this sudden event does not have an adverse effect on the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula," Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said.

He added, "Prime Minister (Yoshihiko) Noda told members of the security meeting to strengthen information gathering efforts, work closely and share information with relevant states including the United States, South Korea and China, and to prepare for any unexpected circumstances. The government hopes to take appropriate action as needed."

Report: Japan preparing for unexpected after Kim's death (Reuters, 19 Dec 2011)

Related Article