Analysis: Kim Jong Il's death leaves nuclear talks uncertain 

 

The death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il could put a brake on talks ultimately aimed at getting the secretive communist state to give up its nuclear weapons programme.

Kim Jong Un, the supreme leader's untested third son and successor, is unlikely to risk any step that could be construed as weakness as he seeks to consolidate control. 

Even before his father's death, the United States and others have said they viewed the power transition as a dangerous time — when the ascendant Kim Jong Un could seek to demonstrate his leadership credentials through martial and provocative actions, such as a military attack on South Korea or a nuclear test. 

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that the North conducted at least one short-range missile test today, just hours after announcing the death of the nation's leader. Two unidentified South Korean military officials, while not confirming the report, said the test would be part of a routine drill and have little to do with Kim's passing. 

Kim Jong Un was first brought into public view in September 2010, when his father put the 20-something in high-ranking posts. In power, he faces daunting challenges. 

As the authoritarian dynasty enters its third generation, North Korea is struggling to feed its own people and has recoiled from reform of its struggling command economy. Despite rising trade and cooperation with chief foreign backer China, the nation's very future is in doubt. 

"The most likely scenario for regime collapse has been the sudden death of Kim (Jong Il). We are now in that scenario," said Victor Cha, a former US National Security Council director for Asian affairs. 

The White House's initial, brief reaction to the North Korean state media report of Kim Jong Il's death on Saturday from a heart ailment emphasised regional security, saying that the US was in close touch with its allies, South Korean and Japan. 

"We remain committed to stability on the Korean peninsula, and to the freedom and security of our allies," a statement said. 

The Obama administration has taken a cautious path in dealing with North Korea over the past three years, since Pyongyang pulled out of six-nation aid-for-disarmament talks in 2009. 

Shortly after the North announced its withdrawal, it conducted its second nuclear test, following its first in 2006. 

In 2010, the North upped the ante even further. 

In moves that some experts speculated was linked to Kim Jong Un's rise to power, a South Korean warship was sunk and a South Korean island came under artillery fire — seemingly unprovoked attacks within months of each other that left 50 people dead and almost pitched the heavily militarised Korean peninsula into war. 

And underscoring the North's intent to develop its nuclear deterrent further, it unveiled a uranium enrichment facility that gave it a second way of generating fissile material to put in an atom bomb. 

Only in July 2011, when North-South tensions had eased, did the US revive direct negotiations with Pyongyang, a prelude to a possible resumption of the six-nation talks, that also include China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. 

While there's little expectation that the North Korean regime would agree to give up its nuclear deterrent — which it probably views as key to its very survival — the US hopes that talks could help slow the weapons' development and discourage future provocations. 

In the past five months, the diplomatic track has yielded little in the way of concrete results, but it has, at least, gathered some momentum. 

Washington has held two rounds of exploratory talks and a third round appeared imminent. The US also appears ready to resume badly needed food aid that Pyongyang requested nearly a year ago. US officials discussed the monitoring of the possible assistance with North Korean officials during two days of meetings in Beijing last week. 

While Washington would deny any connection, food aid could serve as a sweetener for getting the North to agree to terms for a resumption of the disarmament talks, such as a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests, and opening up its nuclear facilities to outside inspection. 

But with Kim Jong Il's death, negotiations with the United States — which retains about 28,000 troops across the border in South Korea — are likely to be put on hold, as the North enters months of intense mourning for the Dear Leader, and rising uncertainty. 

AP

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pillar 1, 2 & 3) Insurance

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pilla...

Manager - SAS - Data Warehouse - Banking

£350 - £365 per day: Orgtel: Manager, SAS, Data Warehouse, Banking, Bristol - ...

Web Analyst – Permanent – West Sussex – Up to £43k

£35000 - £43000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment