PYONGYANG, North Korea - (AP) - The Obama administration says it remainscommitted to stability on the Korean peninsula and is closelymonitoring developments there following the death of North Koreandictator Kim Jong Il and the apparent transfer of power to his son.
The administration had been expected to decide, possibly asearly as Monday, whether to try to re-engage the reclusive countryin nuclear negotiations and provide it with food aid, U.S.
officials said Sunday. The officials, who spoke on condition ofanonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation, said Kim's deathwould likely delay the effort.
The officials said the U.S. was concerned about any changesKim's death might spark in the military postures of North and SouthKorea, but were hopeful calm would prevail, despite the test of ashort-range missile by the North just hours after the announcementof Kim's death.
The top U.S. military officer, Gen. Martin Dempsey, toldreporters in Germany the United States and its allies had not seenany change "in North Korean behavior of a nature that would alarmus," according to the American Forces Press Service. The JointChiefs of Staff chairman said there had been no changes to thealert readiness for U.S. forces on the peninsula although SouthKorea has put its military and police on alert.
The White House said it was in constant contact with alliesSouth Korea and Japan, but it offered no substantive comment on theimplications of Kim's death. President Barack Obama spoke withSouth Korean President Lee Myung-bak at midnight and the twoleaders agreed to stay in close touch.
"The president reaffirmed the United States' strong commitmentto the stability of the Korean peninsula and the security of ourclose ally, the Republic of Korea," the White House said in astatement early Monday.
Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton were bothbriefed on Kim's death, the White House and State Department said.
Kim's death was announced by state media in a "specialbroadcast" from Pyongyang late Sunday. The report said Kim died ofa heart ailment on a train due to a "great mental and physicalstrain" on Dec. 17 during a "high intensity field inspection."North Korea will hold a national mourning period until Dec. 29.Kim's funeral will be held on Dec. 28, it said.
The U.S. officials stressed that North Korea's past behavior hasbeen notoriously erratic, making predictions about its intentionsdifficult. However, they said they believed there would not besignificant changes in North Korean policies under Kim's son andheir apparent Kim Jong Un until at least after the mourning periodends.
Kim's death came as the Obama administration was debatingwhether to go ahead with a new round of nuclear disarmament talkswith the North and whether to provide food aid to the country,which has been struggling with crippling food shortages.
The administration had been poised to announce a significantdonation of food aid to North Korea this week, the first concreteaccomplishment after months of behind-the-scenes diplomaticcontacts between the two wartime enemies, according to sourcesclose to the negotiations. And, an agreement by North Korea tosuspend its controversial uranium enrichment program was expectedto follow within days, the sources said.
Suspension of uranium enrichment by North Korea had been a keyoutstanding demand from both the U.S. and South Korea of the North,which has tested two atomic devices in the past five years. Recentfood talks in Beijing yielded a breakthrough on uranium enrichment,the sources said.
The food aid announcement, which could have come as early asMonday, would have not only been welcome news for North Korea, butalso pave the way for a crucial U.S.-North Korea meeting in Beijingon Thursday. That meeting in turn could lead to the resumption ofnuclear disarmament talks that would also include China, Japan,Russia and South Korea.
The so-called six-party talks were last held three years ago,and resuming them would amount to a foreign policy coup for theObama administration.
Two senior U.S. diplomats were in North Korea's lone ally Chinalast week to discuss the issues. They were due to meet Obama's topnational security aides on Monday to discuss the way forward. Thosemeetings will go ahead in the wake of Kim's passing but decisionswill almost certainly be delayed as it is not clear if North Koreanofficials will be in position to handle any engagement with theoutside, the U.S. officials said.