U.S.-South Korean Consults Follow Kim’s Death

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19, 2011 — U.S. offi­cials are care­ful­ly watch­ing the sit­u­a­tion on the Kore­an Penin­su­la in the wake of news that North Kore­an dic­ta­tor Kim Jong-il has died.

Kim died Sat­ur­day of a mas­sive heart attack, accord­ing to a North Kore­an gov­ern­ment release. Kim Jong-eun, the “Dear Leader’s” youngest son, is expect­ed to replace him.

Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma con­sult­ed with South Kore­an Pres­i­dent Lee Myung-bak last night. They dis­cussed the sit­u­a­tion on the Kore­an Penin­su­la fol­low­ing the death of Kim Jong-il, accord­ing to a White House read-out of the call.

“The pres­i­dent reaf­firmed the Unit­ed States’ strong com­mit­ment to the sta­bil­i­ty of the Kore­an Penin­su­la and the secu­ri­ty of our close ally, the Repub­lic of Korea,” accord­ing to the read out. “The two lead­ers agreed to stay in close touch as the sit­u­a­tion devel­ops and agreed they would direct their nation­al secu­ri­ty teams to con­tin­ue close coordination.”

U.S. lead­ers have been in con­stant con­tact with South Kore­an and Japan­ese allies since Kim’s death was announced, White House spokesman Jay Car­ney said.

Army Gen. Mar­tin Dempsey, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters trav­el­ing with him in Ger­many that the allies have not seen any change “in North Kore­an behav­ior of a nature that would alarm us.”

Speak­ing broad­ly, the gen­er­al said he is con­cerned about the tran­si­tion, but there have been no changes to the alert readi­ness for U.S. forces on the penin­su­la. South Kore­an offi­cials announced their armed forces are on a high­er lev­el of alert.

U.S. and South Kore­an lead­ers quick­ly estab­lished a net­work “to dis­cuss this issue and to deter­mine what we could do to con­tribute to under­stand­ing what might hap­pen next,” Dempsey said.

“It is my expec­ta­tion … that he will be the suc­ces­sor,” the chair­man said. “We’ve gone to sig­nif­i­cant effort to under­stand, and I would only say at this point that he is young to be put in this posi­tion and we will have to see if it, in fact, is him and how he reacts to the bur­den of gov­er­nance that he has­n’t had to deal with before.”

Kim Jong-il took over from his father Kim Il-sung in 1994. It was the first case of a son tak­ing over for a father in a com­mu­nist nation. In 2010, he announced his youngest son would suc­ceed him.

North Korea has devel­oped nuclear weapons and mis­sile tech­nol­o­gy, U.S. offi­cials have said. It is a pari­ah among nations in that it has active­ly sought to export nuclear and mis­sile tech­nol­o­gy even as up to a mil­lion North Kore­ans are believed to have starved to death. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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