Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday openly raised the possibility of a power struggle in North Korea to succeed the country’s reclusive leader, Kim Jong-il-comments certain to anger the reclusive regime.
“Everybody is trying to sort of read the tea leaves as to what is happening and what is likely to occur, and there is a lot of guessing going on,” she told reporters as they flew to Seoul, referring to talks between Washington and its Asian partners.
“But there is also an increasing amount of pressure, because if there is a succession - even if it’s a peaceful succession - that creates more uncertainty and it may also encourage behaviors that are even more provocative as a way to consolidate power within the society.”
Coming after months of speculation about Mr. Kim’s health, prompted by reports that he suffered a stroke last year, Mrs. Clinton’s remarks were the most extensive and frank public comments on the succession issue by a senior U.S. official and raised questions about whether she meant to say what she said or misspoke out of diplomatic inexperience.
Early Friday, she tried to soften the effect of her remarks, saying at a news conference with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan that Washington will deal with the North Korean government that currently exists.
Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said that Mrs. Clinton’s remarks, while acknowledging a reality, “seem to go further than other officials in expressing concern about a failed succession.”
They also “indicate that the U.S. is making contingency plans with Japan and South Korea and reaching out to China for any information” it might have, he said.
U.S. officials traveling with Mrs. Clinton said she was simply offering a view on why the North has been sending mixed messages, including some provocative ones.
Mrs. Clinton said the South Koreans are particularly worried “about what’s up in North Korea, what the succession could be, what it means for them, and they are looking for us to use our best efforts to try to get the agenda of denuclearization and nonproliferation back in gear.”
Senior officials in both the Bush and Obama administrations have said in private that their repeated attempts to engage Chinese officials on the issue of Mr. Kim’s succession have been rebuffed.
Although Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Il-sung, never hid his intention to pass the torch to his son, the current leader has been silent on the matter. His youngest son, Kim Jong-un, and brother-in-law, Chang Song-taek, have been mentioned as possible successors, as well as a collective body.
Regardless of who will be in charge in Pyongyang, “the policies are unlikely to change,” Mr. Klingner said. In fact, the new person “may even be more conservative, or more Catholic than the pope,” he added, pointing out that the North’s “elite feels threatened by any kind of opening of the country to outside influence.”View Entire Story
Nicholas Kralev is The Washington Times’ diplomatic correspondent. His travels around the world with four secretaries of state — Hillary Rodham Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright — as well as his other reporting overseas trips inspired his new weekly column, “On the Fly.” He is a former writer for the weekend edition of the Financial Times and ...
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