U.S. takes delicate approach to North Korean succession

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North Korea’s pursuit and development of nuclear weapons in recent years has irritated the administrations of three U.S. presidents.

Washington has tried repeatedly to embrace multilateral “six-party talks” to pressure North Korea to abandon its weapons program. The talks, which feature South Korea, China, Japan and Russia, have become moribund in recent years.

“The successor regime will have to consolidate itself before it will be prepared to engage the United States, South Korea and others,” said Richard C. Bush III, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Some elements of North Korea’s military or political hierarchies may seize on the fact that next year marks the 100th anniversary of regime founder Kim Il-sung’s birth to pursue their own ambitions. Kim Il-sung died in 1994 and was succeeded by his son Kim Jong-il.

“We just don’t know enough about others in the system to say whether there will be ones who will resist this third dynastic succession,” Mr. Cha said.

John Tkacik Jr., a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation who served as chief of China intelligence at the State Department during the Clinton administration, said the U.S. has a chance to undermine the legitimacy of the new regime from the start.

“The way to do that is for the U.S. and South Korea to say that this is a despotic dictatorship that doesn’t represent the North Korean people,” Mr. Tkacik said. “We should not provide food aid or fuel; instead, there should be a heightened military presence that would give us an opportunity to push regime change.”

The Obama administration, meanwhile, disputed reports that it had been planning the resumption of food aid to North Korea’s starving population this week.

In recent months, the administration has attempted to develop a quid pro quo in which North Korea could be pressured into suspending uranium enrichment in exchange for the aid.

“The U.S. has not been extending food aid to North Korea strictly on humanitarian grounds, that’s clear,” said Roberta Cohen, who heads the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea and is a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution.

She said it’s understandable that the White House would pull back on the aid announcement.

“When you have this uncertainty about who the new leadership is going to be, and you don’t know who your interlocutor is anymore, obviously they’re going to wait and see,” Ms. Cohen said.

Dave Boyer, Ashish Kumar Sen, Shaun Waterman and Bill Gertz contributed to this report.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
Guy Taylor

Guy Taylor

Guy Taylor is the National Security Team Leader at The Washington Times, overseeing the paper’s State Department, Pentagon and intelligence community coverage. He’s also a frequent guest on The McLaughlin Group and C-SPAN.

His series on political, economic and security developments in Mexico won a 2012 Virginia Press Association award.

Prior to rejoining The Times in 2011, his work was ...

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