By CNN National Security Producer Jamie Crawford
The new regime in North Korea is not yet ready to come in from the cold, but the United States still stands ready to engage, a senior State Department official said Thursday.
"Right now we are in the closest possible consultation with South Korea, Japan and working with China to try and get a sense of what's taking place in terms of the succession," said Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.
As to whether the United States has been able to glean any sense of policy priorities of the new leader, Kim Jong Un, Campbell said it was still too early to tell. "It is probably too early to make any clear determinations about the ultimate character of this new leadership inside North Korea," he said.
"I think we have made very clear (to North Korea) our preparation to have a different kind of relationship" if they are ready to take the necessary steps on nuclear nonproliferation and other issues required by the international community, Campbell said.
North Korea has been a major topic of discussion for Campbell and his interlocutors since the death of Kim Jong Il last month.
Campbell met with Japanese and South Korean officials at the State Department earlier this week to discuss a range of regional and global issues including North Korea. He was joined in the discussions by Glyn Davies, the special representative for North Korea policy. Campbell traveled to China, South Korea and Japan earlier this month for bilateral discussions along with talks about North Korea and the recent developments in Myanmar that the administration has welcomed.
While better relations between North and South Korea are the "gateway" to a more fundamental North Korean engagement with the international community, Campbell said there are still serious concerns the North may make some provocative act to send a message.
Despite restraint from South Korea after North Korean attacks in 2010 that led to the deaths of 50 South Koreans, Campbell said the United States makes sure the North is aware of possible future consequences. "We have communicated very directly, particularly to our Chinese interlocutors, but also publicly that provocative steps have the risk of triggering deeply unforeseen consequences."
And as the Obama administration begins a "pivot" toward greater engagement in the Asia-Pacific region, Campbell said it is imperative that relations with China in particular are developed in a predictable and transparent way on both sides. "This is destined to probably be the most complex, consequential bilateral relationship the United States has, and has had on the global stage either before or going forward," he said.
Countries in the region have an interest in improving their relations with Beijing, and the United States is cognizant of that, Campbell said. At the same time, those countries want a closer relationship with the United States because they believe it helps them in their own interactions with China, he said.
Going forward, Campbell said both the United States and China realize both need each other despite ongoing economic, political and security disagreements. "We both recognize the promise of the 21st century in the Asia-Pacific region," he said. "Our challenge is to demonstrate quite clearly that the region and the world is big enough for both of us."
Campbell spoke at the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington.