Luis M. Alvarez, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration called for a peaceful and stable leadership transition in North Korea on Tuesday after the death of the reclusive nation's leader Kim Jong Il.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States is still looking for better relations with the North Korean people despite the "evolving situation" there and on the rest of the Korean peninsula. She did not mention if or how Kim's death or the "evolving situation" on the peninsula would affect the U.S. approach to his country.
However, U.S. officials have said Kim's passing and assumption of power of his son, Kim Jong Un, will likely delay anticipated developments on resuming nuclear disarmament talks with the North and supplying the nation with food aid.
"We both share a common interest in a peaceful and stable transition in North Korea as well as ensuring regional peace and stability," Clinton told reporters at the State Department after a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Kemba. "We reiterate our hope for improved relations with the people of North Korea and remain deeply concerned about their well-being."
Kemba said the U.S. and Japan "shared the recognition that it is important to make sure that the latest events would not negatively affect the peace and stability on the Korean peninsula."
Neither Clinton nor Kemba took questions from reporters.
The administration had been expected to decide, possibly as early as Monday, whether to try to re-engage the reclusive country in nuclear negotiations and provide it with food aid, U.S. officials said Sunday. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation, said Kim's death would likely delay the effort.
The officials said the U.S. was concerned about any changes Kim's death might spark in the military postures of North and South Korea, but were hopeful calm would prevail, despite the test of a short-range missile by the North just hours after the announcement of Kim's death.
The top U.S. military officer, Gen. Martin Dempsey, told reporters in Germany the United States and its allies had not seen any change "in North Korean behavior of a nature that would alarm us," according to the American Forces Press Service. The Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman said there had been no changes to the alert readiness for U.S. forces on the peninsula although South Korea has put its military and police on alert.
The White House said it was in constant contact with allies South Korea and Japan, but it offered no substantive comment on the implications of Kim's death. President Barack Obama spoke with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak at midnight and the two leaders agreed to stay in close touch.
"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," the White House said in a statement early Monday.
Obama and Clinton were both briefed on Kim's death, the White House and State Department said.
Kim's death was announced by state media in a "special broadcast" from Pyongyang late Sunday. The report said Kim died of a heart attack on a train due to a "great mental and physical strain" 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 has been notoriously erratic, making predictions about its intentions difficult. However, they said they believed there would not be significant changes in North Korean policies under Kim's son and heir apparent Kim Jong Un until at least after the mourning period ends.
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